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Flat track racing and its stars are focus of award-winning Madison film, ‘Angels Of Dirt’

Documentary tells of the community of flat track and of grief as it relays the story of Charlotte Kainz, who died while racing in 2016

“Angels Of Dirt” merchandise is on display at the Barrymore Theatre for the film by Wendy Schneider. Photo courtesy of Schneider

When Charlotte Kainz started to draw as a toddler, she didn’t doodle rainbows or stick people or sun rays on the page.

Kainz, of West Allis, drew what she loved: an XR750, a Harley-Davidson racing motorcycle. That’s the bike Kainz would eventually ride to a career in professional flat track racing.

“I think that Charlotte had a fire in her belly at a very, very young age to race motorcycles — not to ride motorcycles. She didn’t want to ride a street bike. Charlotte wanted to race,” said Wendy Schneider, a Madison-based filmmaker whose recent film documents Kainz’s personal and professional life and the lives of other flat track racers.

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Angels Of Dirt” won the audience choice award for best documentary at the Wisconsin Film Festival. Schneider recently joined WPR’s “The Larry Meiller Show” to talk about what happened in 2006 and the following 17 years to shape the story’s beginning and end.

The documentary leans heavily into themes of community and family that are rooted in flat track racing. Grief plays a part, too, felt by those who’ve lost loved ones to the sport, including Kainz’s family, fans and friends.

Kainz died from a head injury in 2016 during an accident in the last race of her first season on the American Flat Track Pro Circuit, where a rider in front of her flipped and Kainz had no recourse but to hit the downed rider.

“When (people) watch ‘Angels Of Dirt,’ there is an opportunity for grief to come full circle. In my case, it’s with the story of Charlotte,” Schneider said. “But everyone that’s in flat track has a connection to a loss or an injury that has impacted their lives and their friends.”

“Angels Of Dirt” premiered on April 18, 2024 at the Oriental Theater during Milwaukee Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Wendy Schneider

Getting into the sport

Flat track racing is “America’s original extreme sport,” explained Scottie Deubler, a third generation flat track racer who quit racing to become an announcer after his cousin died from the sport in 2000.

Racing takes place on tracks that vary in length and with different-sized engines up to 750cc. Unlike mainstream motocross, which features jumps and multi-directional tracks, flat track racing is on an oval course.

“Most of the time, you go fast, you turn left,” Deubler said, adding, “It sounds really easy. But if it was that easy, everybody would do it.”

Schneider became interested in flat track racing after driving past the Aztalan Cycle Club in Lake Mills, seeing RVs and bikes flying through the air.

“Once you see the track, you’re past the exit, so it was never the easiest place to go,” Schneider said. “So, I had to very intentionally just show up and go to a race one afternoon.”

She was especially captivated by the young girls who were racing, some 5, 6 or 7 years old on small 50cc bikes. The first young racer she met was Kainz, whom someone told her to seek out.

Wendy Schneider shooting “Angels Of Dirt” in 2007 at Aztalan. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Kilkenny.

That was in 2006, and for the next several years, Schneider taped dozens of interviews with girls who raced in flat track and motocross, including Kainz and her family. But Schneider didn’t have a clear sense of what direction to take with the film.

Schneider then was injured in an accident, forcing her to take time off. And those tapes got shelved.

She revisited the tapes in 2016, after learning of Kainz’s death.

“That footage came down off the shelf. I started raising money to produce a film that was still going to be ‘Angels Of Dirt’ and tell the story of female racers, but it was going to use Charlotte’s life as a beacon to hold the sort of focus throughout the film,” Schneider said.

Dave Kilkenny, Charlotte Kainz's mentor, is interviewed after Kainz's death. Photo courtesy of Wendy Schneider
Dave Kilkenny, Charlotte Kainz’s mentor, is interviewed after Kainz’s death. Photo courtesy of Wendy Schneider

‘Look where you want to go’

Deubler, the announcer, had been calling races and watching Kainz race for years. Because of what he saw, Schneider called him in to add one of the last interviews to the film.

She (Kainz) knew where she wanted to go,” Deubler said. “And for somebody that’s that young that wants to stay in our sport, it’s incredible.”

Kainz was a fierce, focused competitor, but she wasn’t without struggle. She was small in stature, which affected her ability to get a good start, especially when competing in some cases against men who were several times her age and size.

“She had to work her way through the pack,” Deubler said. “And if you’re that determined to pass these older gentlemen at that race that I’m speaking of, she had it. She wanted that win and she got that win.”

Scottie Deubler. Photo courtesy of Wendy Schneider

Schneider said there’s a mantra in motorcycle racing: “Look where you want to go.”

“That is a mantra that I use to finish the film. That is the mantra that I see in racers. That is part of the story of ‘Angels Of Dirt,’” she said.

The film recently premiered at the Wisconsin Film Festival and at the Milwaukee Film Festival. Schneider will be doing pop-up screenings around the country, including in New York and Montana in August and in California in September.

It was most recently shown at two American Flat Track races in Lima, Ohio.

The film isn’t on a streaming platform yet, but Schneider said she hopes to make a deal after the film finishes the pre-release screening tour, which will continue for another few months.

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