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FLORIDA GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG // Feeling good, running strong

Dorsey Schroeder is happy again, which typically isn't good news for the rest of the SCCA Trans-Am drivers. You see, when Schroeder is happy, he's about as hard to beat as George Foreman in a hamburger-eating contest.

In the last two seasons, Schroeder has re-established his position as one of the slickest free-wheelers in road racing, a guy who is consistently in the chase for the drivers' championship that he won as a rookie in 1989.

"Life is good," Schroeder said.

Things were pretty sweet back in '89 too. Not only did he win the title in his first year, but he brought a new standard to road racing. Driving a Ford Mustang, he racked up six victories, five poles and 12 top-5 finishes in just 14 races. During one stretch, he won five out of nine races, including four straight.

He did everything back then. He drove in both SCCA Trans-Am and IMSA GTO in the same season and won the IMSA GTO championship that year. He flirted with driving in NASCAR Winston Cup, dabbled in the International Race of Champions Series, and generally was voted onto every significant all-star racing team there was.

Of course, that was all before 1991, that period in time Schroeder calls the "worst year of my life." That's when he went through an emotional divorce and endured the unexpected deaths of his mother and father, who passed away mere weeks apart.

Making matters worse, he had been running himself ragged. His inordinate amount of success in '89 and '90 brought unforseen demands on his time.

"Everybody was asking me to do things and I was saying, "Yes,' to everything. I didn't know how to say no." Schroeder said. "So, I was flying back and forth, talking to poor people and doing this and doing that. Really, what I was doing was burning myself out. My family life was falling apart."

In essence, Schroeder wasn't happy. And when Schroeder isn't happy, he doesn't race at his best. That's because he is one of the genuine good guys in racing, that almost unique driver who doesn't know what it means to be pretentious and standoffish let alone how to act like it.

But the deaths of his parents and the divorce, which seperated him from his young daughter, Carissa, turned Schroeder into a man few people recoginized. He had, in effect, lost his sense of humor, which in Schroeder's case, was the equivalent of losing his soul.

"He had a string of bad luck. There was definitely a dark cloud following him," recalled Ford official Kevin Kennedy. "I think people thought there were so many distractions, on and off the track, that he kind of lost some of the focus. Everybody knew he was a damn good driver, but he just needed to get everything sorted out."

Instead, more misfortune followed. When Ford decided to scale back its factory support in road racing in '91, Schroeder blew off Roush Racing's offer to drive a partial season and worked a deal to step up to the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit and drive for Melling Racing. Or so he thought.

The deal fell through at the last minute, and when Schroeder went crawling humbly back to the Roush Racing folks, they wouldn't give him the time of day.

"I had nothing," said Schroeder, who eventually took several guest spots as a racing TV commentator in '91 and '92.

To help heal his mind, Schroeder built a 3,600-square-foot, two-level home in the Missouri Ozarks complete with an indoor barbecue pit, an indoor draw bridge and a front side that's made of glass.

He immersed himself in his favorite hobby of cooking and now throws an annual New Year's Eve party for 200 people and cooks for them all.

In 1993, he got back on the track with Tom Gloy Racing, and with a clear head and a revived love for the sport, he is back to his old winning ways. After finishing fourth in the Trans-Am series standings in 1994 and third last year, Schroeder is expected to be in the title hunt this season, starting with the season-opening Florida Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Feb. 23-25.

"Life is good again. I can't imagine it being much better," said Schroeder, who remains close to his daughter and is dating again. "I have really enjoyed the last couple of years."

ENTRIES

2. J. Galles, Albuquerque, N.M.

3. Ron Fellows, Toronto, Can.

5. Paul Gentilozzi, Lansing, Mich.

6. S. Sharp, East Norwalk, Conn.

7. R.J. Valentine, Hingham, Mass.

8. Bill Saunders, Dallas

11. Tom Kendall, Manhattan Beach, Calif.

12. Dorsey Schroeder, Osage Beach, Mo.

14. Boris Said III, Carlsbad, Calif.

16. John Gooding, Longwood

17. Bill Eagle, Tampa

19. James Crist, Clearwater Beach

22. Brian Simo, Carlsbad, Calif.

23. Bob Ruman, Munroe Falls, Ohio

34. Bill Bentley, Longwood

35. Trent Terry, Benton, Ill.

47. Wayne Akers, Lantana

49. Randy Ruhlman, Greensboro, N.C.

54. David Rubins, Treasure Island

64. John W. Miller IV, Johnson City, Tenn.

66. Dale Phelon, San Juan, P.R.

83. Max Lagod, Barrington, Ill.

98. Wally Castro, San Juan, P.R.

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