Actor Dempsey Steps Into Driving Spotlight In GRAND-AM Race At IMS
For GRAND-AM Road Racing, Friday, July 27 is “Lights, Camera, Action” as the teams prepare for the Brickyard Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
And no driver in the field understands those commands better than Patrick Dempsey, who somehow finds time to be one of television and motion picture’s biggest stars while actively competing as a sports-car driver. In some ways, Dempsey is just as familiar with “Gentleman, Start Your Engines” as he is with “Lights, Camera, Action.”
Just as he is on-screen, Dempsey has a presence when he is at the racetrack because he is the famous actor who is also a race driver.
“We always have a good turnout in our paddock,” Dempsey said. “People are always watching you want to make sure you take the time for the fans who come out and say hello. It’s hard to get from Point A to Point B uninterrupted, but without their support, I wouldn’t be here. Certainly on test days when nobody is around, it’s a little more relaxed, and you can let go and not worry about everyone. I try to be as respectful as possible and make sure everybody has a signature and photograph if they want it. It’s part of the deal.”
And while Dempsey will be driving the No. 40 VISIT FLORIDA/ModSpace/Construct Corps/Dempsey Racing Mazda RX-8 GT in the inaugural GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, it won’t be his first experience with a race at IMS. From 2005-2010, Dempsey was a co-owner of Vision Racing, along with former Indianapolis Motor Speedway President and INDYCAR founder Tony George, with Ed Carpenter as the driver.
“We’re going to be on the track this year, which is real exciting,” Dempsey said. “It’s hallowed ground. It has great history there with the Indy 500, and when you think of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, all those are legends in the motorsports world. For us to go there in the Rolex Series is going to be very exciting. I’ve driven the Pace Car there, and that was very exciting in itself, but I’m looking forward to racing there in July.”
Dempsey believes the race at IMS will elevate GRAND-AM to a higher level of motorsports achievement. The series’ premier race is the Rolex 24 At Daytona, and with a race beginning at IMS this year, it is one of just two racing series that has speed contests at both Indianapolis and Daytona.
“There are a lot of people in the Indianapolis area that love motor racing and road racing so hopefully that weekend will be quite busy and bring people out,” Dempsey said. “I think the banking will be a lot of fun, but the infield course will be very technical on the inside. We have a very long straightaway going into Turn 1, so that will be a challenge.”
Dempsey has moved on from his days as co-owner at Vision Racing, and Carpenter has started his own IZOD IndyCar Series team – Ed Carpenter Racing. But Dempsey still follows his driver and his former business partner, Tony George, as they have returned to IZOD IndyCar Series competition.
“It’s good to see Ed doing well, and it’s good to see the evolution of INDYCAR and the development of the new Dallara DW12,” Dempsey said. “Hopefully it’s making the driver safer, and it was a tremendous loss losing Dan Wheldon for all of us in the racing community.But these drivers lay it on the line every time they go out there. But they are very talented drivers.”
Carpenter drove to victory his very first time on the track when he won the Firestone Freedom 100 Firestone Indy Lights Series race at Indianapolis in 2003. Dempsey would like to equal that mark with his first career Rolex Series victory at Indianapolis.
“The rules package, the way it is at the moment, is not really favoring the Mazda, so hopefully we will have found some competitive gains and modifications when we get to Indianapolis,” Dempsey said. “They are trying to make a balanced field, and it is challenging. It’s nice to see the different marques that are here in this series, but we want a good finish at Indianapolis and get someone with a good finish and hopefully get somebody on the podium from the No. 40 and No. 41 cars.”
There have been many actors who have played race drivers, with some of the greatest names in Hollywood – from Clark Gable to Mickey Rooney to James Garner – all gaining fame from roles they played as the fearless men from behind the wheel. And then there are race car drivers who have been actors, as Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and Jason Priestley have all competed in professional racing as well as acting.
Add Dempsey to that list as the driver who has gained fame from his role as Dr. Derek Shepherd in Grey’s Anatomy as well as movie roles from “Can’t Buy Me Love” to “Loverboy” to “Sweet Home Alabama” to “Made of Honor” and “Valentine’s Day.” He is a fearless competitor in both GRAND-AM Sports Car Racing and the American Le Mans Series. This is his fourth full year in GRAND-AM.
“I’m accepted more in the paddock and the team is growing, and we are getting our credibility on the track,” Dempsey said. “I’d like to win more. It’s used to be fun just to show up, but now you want a good result and want to be in the top-10, but the series is so competitive with some very talented drivers. If you are a half-second off, you are 25th fast, so it is hard. I’m getting faster, but everybody else is getting faster, too.”
Dempsey is the team owner and co-driver along with Dempsey Racing business partner Joe Foster. The two have been racing together for seven years after first meeting when Foster was Dempsey’s racing school series instructor. In 2004, Dempsey had his first competitive driving experience with a three-day Skip Barber Racing School course that was a gift from his wife. In 2005, Dempsey’s racing competition began with the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race in Long Beach, the Mazdaspeed Miata MX-5 Cup and the Panoz GT Series. He made five Continental Tire Series starts in 2006 before making his Rolex Series GT debut in 2007 at Miller Motorsports Park with Foster and Charles Espenlaub in the No. 40 Mazda’s first race. Also ran seven GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge races, with a series career-best finish of sixth with Espenlaub at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In 2008, Dempsey competed in nine Rolex Series GT races, earning a season-best result of ninth at Montreal with Foster. The following year, he finished a career-best sixth in Rolex Sports Car Series GT race at Mid-Ohio with Foster in the No. 40 Dempsey Racing Mazda RX-8. Also joined Foster and Don Kitch Jr. in a ninth place GT2 finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 2010, he joined Foster and teammates Espenlaub and Scott Maxwell for the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona where the No. 40 Mazda RX-8 GT finished sixth. The result was Dempsey Racing’s best Rolex 24 finish to that point, and also matched Dempsey’s previous career-best race finish. His racing was limited to just that contest because he was filming movies during the summer.
Dempsey continued his GRAND-AM improvement in 2011 when he joined Foster, Espenlaub and Tom Long with a career-best third in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. All four drivers led the race, including a career-high 28 laps led for Dempsey.
Away from the track, Dempsey enjoys road cycling and mountain biking.
“It’s a great way to get out and experience nature,” Dempsey said. “I grew up in a small town in Maine, so to me just to get out and have a walk in the woods is the nicest thing. I’m in Southern California now, but I always like to take a couple hours to get back to nature and really go out and take a walk in the woods.”