Patrick Dempsey's Auto Racing Passion
For a guy whose first car was a Mercedes 240 diesel, who likes alternative bands like the Arctic Monkeys in his CD changer and grew up a ski racer in his native Maine, it's fitting to see where Patrick Dempsey sits today.
He's enjoying a career renaissance as Dr. Derek Shepherd on Grey's Anatomy and is the new co-owner of Vision Racing in the open-wheel Indy Racing League (IRL). It all happened because three Indianapolis 500 races ago, IRL founder Tony George asked Dempsey if he wanted to come on board.
"I feel like a kid in the candy store," Dempsey said in an IRL conference call before the beginning of the 2006 season.
Dempsey enjoys strong name (and face, and hair) recognition in Hollywood, but he'd like to become just as well-known in Indianapolis, Ind., and not just for TV work. Born in Lewiston, Maine, Dempsey grew up an alpine ski racer and won the Maine state championship in slalom. He always enjoyed a passion for cars, sparked by his father taking him to the Indy 500 as a child and introducing him to NASCAR and Formula One.
He was always a kid with many interests and who loved attention. He wanted to attend Clown College (really) as a kid, and placed third at the National Jugglers Convention as a teenager. After graduating from high school in Buckland, Maine, Dempsey headed for California, quickly getting a part in the 1985 film Heaven Help Us.
With the rewards of his first acting jobs, he bought a classic "James Dean" 1959 356 Porsche. Two years later, he was a star, and married at 21 to a woman who was 48. He had a stepson who was a year older than he was. Then, following roles in Meatballs III and Can't Buy Me Love, Dempsey went into a decade-long slump in Hollywood. The silver lining is that it allowed his racing career began to gain momentum.
"I wasn't intentionally staying away (from acting roles). I just wasn't getting hired," Dempsey said.
In his down time, Dempsey attended the Skip Barber and Panoz racing schools and eventually worked his way into more track time. In 2004, with his film career back on track, he began driving in several amateur racing series.
His involvement blossomed during a trip to the Indy 500 as a celebrity guest of George. In May 2004, George asked if Patrick wanted to join his new Vision Racing team.
A year later, Dempsey expressed a keen interest for the team and diligently followed IndyCar competition throughout 2005. Over the winter, the actor agreed, pledging money and support in exchange for free pit passes to watch drivers Ed Carpenter and Tomas Scheckter race.
"I think my role will continue to expand as the team expands. It's certainly much more enjoyable to go to the track when you have a vested interest in the team," Dempsey said.
With his hectic work schedule, it will be difficult for the 40-year old heart throb to attend a lot of races. Between TV, movies and his own racing in the Grand-Am circuit (where Porsches and Corvettes run) he's a tad busy.
"The most difficult time is getting there (to the track). I have stress trying to get to everything on time. I cannot miss the Indianapolis 500," Dempsey said. "I like getting away from Hollywood and being around the racers and the racing community."
And what of the chances of Dempsey getting behind the wheel of a car at some point on a test run?
"I have no business getting on the oval track," he laughed. "Road racing, I would love to get in the car. But oval racing, I have no business getting involved in. It's so dangerous. If I was 20 years younger, I might try it."
No one would doubt him, either.