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Racing is a passion with this TV doctor

June 11, 2006|by JASON STEIN / Wheelbase Communications

For a guy whose first car was a Mercedes 240 diesel, who prefers alternative bands like the Arctic Monkeys in his CD changer and grew up a ski racer in Maine, it's probably a bit fitting to see where Patrick Dempsey sits today.

He's a famous TV actor. He has just finished a movie with Hillary Swank. Oh, and he'll be in the pits as the new co-owner of Vision Racing in the open-wheel Indy Racing League. And that only happened because three Indianapolis 500 races ago, IRL founder Tony George happened to ask Dempsey if he was interested in coming on board.

Just another day at the office?

"I feel like a kid in the candy store," Dempsey recently said during an IRL conference call before the beginning of the 2006 season.

And why not?

As Dr. Derek Shepherd on ABC's medical drama, "Grey's Anatomy," Dempsey has become a recognizable name again around the Hollywood Hills.

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Now he'd like to become just as well-known in places such as Homestead, Fla., and Indianapolis, Ind. And not just for TV work.

Dempsey has always been passionate about cars. Or at least speed.

Born in Lewiston, Maine, in 1966, Dempsey grew up an alpine ski racer and won the Maine state championship in slalom.

His father taught him about cars, taking him to the Indy 500 as a boy and introducing him to other racing circuits such as NASCAR and Formula One.

He was always an interesting kid who craved attention. As a teenager, he placed third in his age group at the National Jugglers Convention. He actually wanted to attend Clown College as a kid.

After graduating from Buckfield (Maine) High School, Dempsey headed for California, earning his first part in the 1985 film "Heaven Help Us."

He even bought a classic "James Dean" 1959 356 Porsche from the rewards of one of his first acting jobs.

Two years later, he was married at 21 to a woman who was 48. He even had a stepson who was a year older than he was.

After roles in "Meatballs III" and "Can't Buy Me Love," Dempsey went into a decade-long drought in Hollywood. Ironically, it was only then that his racing career began to gain momentum.

"I wasn't intentionally staying away (from acting roles). I 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 in order, he began driving in several amateur racing series.

But his involvement blossomed during a trip to the Indy 500 as a "celebrity guest" of Tony George.

While Dempsey was at the May 2004 race, George casually asked if he was interested in joining George's new Vision Racing team.

A year later, following another meeting with the Georges in May 2005, Dempsey expressed a keen interest for the team and diligently followed IndyCar competition throughout the 2005 season. Over the winter, Dempsey agreed, pledging money and support in exchange for some free pit passes to watch drivers Ed Carpenter and Tomas Scheckter race.

"I think my role will continue to expand as the team expands," Dempsey said. "It's certainly much more enjoyable to go to the track when you have a vested interest in the team."

Dempsey says it will be difficult to attend a lot of races. Between his TV show, movies and his own racing in the Grand-Am circuit (where Porsches and Corvettes run) he's more than a little busy.

"The most difficult time is getting there (to the track). I have more stress trying to get to everything on time. I cannot miss the Indianapolis 500," he said. "I like getting away from Hollywood and being around the racers and the racing community."

And what of the chances of Dempsey getting into a car at some point on a test run?

"I have no business getting on the oval track," he said. "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 here would doubt him, either.




Jason Stein is a feature writer with Wheelbase Communications. He can be reached on the Web at: www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html.

Copyright 2006, Wheelbase Communications

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