Dorsey Schroeder on Michael Dingman

On May 19, 2006, I interviewed Dorsey Schroeder while working on an Automobile Magazine story about the Ford collector and former Trans-Am racing series driver Michael Dingman, who was then 74 years old. In addition to his professional road racing, Schroeder had been a driving instructor for many years and was working for Jack Roush when he took on Dingman as a student. He was in his late 50s and had amassed a fortune and a somewhat ambiguous reputation in the business world, where he had bought and sold companies. Schroeder recalled that his middle-aged student “had a pretty high talent level to begin. Plus, he was very, very good at listening and doing the suggestions I would tell him to do.”

Michael Dingman, bathed in the neon light of his sign collection
Michael Dingman, bathed in the neon light of his sign collection

Dingman found himself bitten by the racing bug. “Out of the clear blue, you know, he just decided he wanted to go race. Either through things that he’d learned along the way, or whatever, he had a really good concept, a good feel for the race car, which is something that takes a long time to teach people if they don’t have it.”

Q. It wasn’t necessarily his maturity level that made him such a good student. He probably would have been a good student thirty years earlier, too, correct?

A. Oh, I’m sure he would’ve. Yeah, absolutely.

Q. What would you say are his chief personal characteristics that stood out?

A. With Michael, it was a matter of, he was really intent on doing well, and he was very focused on his approach to doing that. Once he made up his mind that’s what he wanted to do, he really locked on that whole idea and he was a great student from that standpoint because he was so focused and so eager to learn more.

Q. It looks like the best he did was tenth in a race. Do you know of anything better?

A. Not off the top of my head. But I should say also, when Michael came into the Trans-Am [series], it was probably at its peak of all time, with as much talent as was [ever] out there.

Q. Deep fields, thirty-five cars.

A. Oh, yeah, yeah. Very deep fields. And back then clearly a dozen cars or so that were capable of winning, in the hands of some of the best road-racing drivers this country ever had, or other countries for that matter. Trans-Am was very, very tough back then.

Q. But he did run in the top ten, fifteen, at time?

A. Yeah.

Q. I couldn’t believe that because he was sixty-one or sixty-two years old when he finished tenth at Belle Isle in ’93. He was born in 1931. He was sixty-two!

A. He still had very good car control, good reflexes. Like I said, his focus was the biggest thing. I think because he was so successful with his endeavors. Obviously, he was able to have the best of equipment, but that being said, there was a lot of those “best of equipments” out there. What was neat was his ability to concentrate and lock in on what it took to be the race car driver and forget about all the rest of it.

dingmanfords01Q. He just quit racing after a while, I gather.

A. I think he [got] pressure from his family, worried about him getting hurt. It was a very true concern because we were playing hardball then.

Q. He started putting together a collection of V8 Fords … he’s got this amazingly focused collection, an urge to document the history of the Ford V8 in all of the best body styles. In the recent years he’s mixed in a whole lot of neon signs and also porcelain-enamel signs. He’s got two thousands signs altogether. This building where he has all the stuff together is unbelievable when he flips the switch and it reflects off the cars. So it’s unlike anything ever. It’s going to be auctioned June 10 and 11.

A. We’ve certainly looked at cars at the racetrack together.

Q. He’s certainly a different guy to be around at the racetrack, with his corporate raider background and everything. Did people take any special note of that back fifteen years ago?

A. I think people were aware that he was very big with Ford Motor Company [Dingman was a board member from 1981 to 2002] and big with some other companies, which is not out of the normal in racing, quite honestly. That’s what racing is. Some of the other people that Michael raced against were equally affluent.

dingmanneon01Q. Sportsman-type guys.

A. Guys that had a huge interest in cars and racing in general. Guys that had money of their own to make it work.

Q. So he really didn’t stand out?

A. The nice thing about Michael, I would say, is how approachable he really was—to everyone, to anyone. Really and truly a nice guy. And a lot of these guys of his stature aren’t that way. They’re somewhat aloof. Michael wasn’t like that. He was friends with everybody, with his fellow competitors and people around. He really, truly enjoyed himself being there. He was a great guy to be around.

Q. He had to end our interview and fly away on his Falcon jet.

A. I flew on his Gulfstream G-4 the last time I flew with him.

Three days after speaking to Schroeder I asked to Jack Roush if he had seen Dingman’s car collection. “It was much like anything Michael does,” Roush said. “He’s got the nicest airplanes, the nicest houses, and the nicest cars of anybody I know.”

 

Dorsey Schroeder bio: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorsey_Schroeder

Dingman collection auction results: http://www.rmauctions.com/auction-results-overview.cfm?SaleCode=DM06

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