Easily one of the most grueling tours in all of motor sports, the 2017 edition of the DIRTcar Summer Nationals — a milestone 30th for the dirt late model series — got underway on Wednesday night in Brownstown, Ind., with veteran Billy Moyer grabbing the checkered flag.
Following Thursday's scheduled event at Kankakee, 27 more nights of racing are slated in a span of 30 days as drivers seek to unseat two-time reigning Summer Nationals champ Bobby Pierce of Oakwood.
While 270 drivers scored points in an attempt to knock Pierce from his throne last year, only five of them competed in every Summer Nationals event in 2016.
While there's a variety of reasons for that, most often mentioned is that all but a very few dirt late model drivers are tethered to jobs during the week and simply can't get away for an entire month to go racing.
Those positions pretty much run the gamut of American enterprise. One of the most fascinating is held by Champaign late model driver Bill Giannetti.
As co-founder, president and CEO of Flightstar Corporation, headquartered at Willard Airport in Savoy, many of Giannetti's days involve piloting executives of Fortune 500 companies to destinations around the globe.
Among Flightstar's clients is the founder of a company that ranks among the top American entrepreneurial success stories of the past two decades.
Another is a Central Illinois businessman who owns a National Football League franchise.
A former NFL coach, who maintains a high profile at the collegiate level, also has also been on the passenger rolls of Flightstar, which houses, maintains and charters 11 corporate jets.
"It's a fascinating job, flying the nicest and most elite level of business jets," said Giannetti of the Global 6000, Falcon 20 and Learjets parked in the company's hangar.
Giannetti, 63, is an entrepreneurial success story himself.
He grew up in Chicago and developed a fascination for all things mechanical at a young age.
"Ever since I was a little kid, I've liked motorized stuff," he said.
His interest in go-carts and minibikes as a youngster developed into a passion for airplanes, boats and cars.
While still working on his marketing degree at the University of Illinois, he took flying lessons at the U of I Institute of Aviation. Not long after receiving his pilot's license, he began a career as a flight instructor/aviation entrepreneur.
"We started a company to do flight training when I was 24," Giannetti said. "We borrowed money, bought some planes and then also began providing charter flights in small, twin-engine planes."
With Flightstar being birthed, Giannetti also launched his racing career, something he had wanted to do from an early age.
He acted on the itch by getting active in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) amateur auto cross rallies, events held in places like parking lots. His first time racing on an actual track came at Blackhawk Farms Raceway, a small road course in South Beloit.
"Once I got on a race track, I was like, 'now I really want to do this,'" Giannetti said.
He attended the Skip Barber Racing School at Wisconsin's Road America before competing in a Formula Ford in the Barber series that's open to the school's graduates. Stints in the SCCA's Sports 2000 ranks, Formula Fords and F-2000 cars would follow.
Married for 27 years, the father of two raced an INEX Legends car on both road and oval courses for three years. When his sons became old enough, he switched to WKA shifter karts with his sons also racing in the Midstate Kart Club.
Giannetti's introduction to dirt track racing came in 2003 when he established what's become a long and fruitful relationship with area late model ace Kevin Weaver.
Giannetti was introduced to Weaver by Dave Arnold, a Flightstar pilot who grew up with Weaver in Gibson City.
Giannetti bought one of Weaver's modifieds and cut his dirt track racing teeth in it on a sporadic basis for a couple of years with multiple poles and race wins. He moved into the late models in 2007 at the age of 53 and was the rookie-of-the year in that class at a track in Boswell, Ind. He's been in a late model, both crate and super, ever since.
Giannetti's cars are maintained by Weaver, prepped and race ready when he arrives at the track.
"Kevin is the guy that keeps me going in this," he said. "He puts the car together and does the maintenance and setup. I don't have the time or the crew to do it myself."
Giannetti also has played a role in keeping Weaver going. Through his Flightstar connections, Giannetti introduced Weaver to the management at Jimmy John's, the nationwide sandwich chain. A solid, 10-year sponsorship arrangement was forged that ended this year.
Giannetti says he's "a better pilot than race car driver," but believes his racing performance would improve with additional seat time. He's been on the track only four times this season.
"We had a few rainouts earlier in the year at Farmer City and then a couple of weeks ago when it was gorgeous in Central Illinois, I was spending three days in Toronto," he said.
"Hopefully, I'd like to say I won a feature one of these days, but I'm happy just being competitive. I just push as hard as I can and at the end of the season, I'm just hoping that I'm better than where we are right now."