Three leading men in Hollywood have left an impression as skilled race car drivers: Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, and James Garner. They competed as professionals at the very highest levels. Now Patrick Dempsey hopes to join their ranks in the chronicles of racing history.
The actor is best known as “Doctor McDreamy” by the female fans of the hit hospital drama Grey’s Anatomy, starting its 10th season Sept. 26 on ABC. But most don’t know that for years Dempsey has dedicated his life and his resources to auto racing. He’s climbed the ladder from novice to expert in the sport. Now he’s behind the wheel for the Patrick Dempsey: Racing Le Mans four-part documentary, premiering Aug. 28 on cable’s Velocity network.
He’s an executive producer on Racing Le Mans and ready to show the world that he’s got the right stuff to compete in the most legendary and challenging auto endurance race. The series will follow Dempsey as he travels off to train for the grueling 24-hour race. He’ll join the racing elite with hopes of victory. And his journey will be told in the raw and authentic style that is Velocity’s trademark. Dempsey will go through time trials, personal trials, and many other struggles with his Porsche team and his family.
To drive at the famed Le Mans in Europe, Dempsey used a lot of his own money “because it was difficult to get a sponsor. The more money you have, the faster you can go, more testing, better quality of equipment. That is why I stay on the show (Grey’s Anatomy). My passion is racing, but I’m an actor, so that’s my profession. That’s my job. But, for me, racing is very exciting and keeps me alive. Then I go back to work and enjoy it.”
He says he’s not bored with the TV show, “In fact, I’m very grateful that I have a show that has been on for ten years, and we’re coming up to 200 episodes. I am grateful I have the gig, but it’s not the same as being in a race car.” For him there’s no job that would be as interesting as racing cars, but says he also appreciates being part of Grey’s Anatomy and praises the show’s producers for letting him race. “They are fantastic. The fact that they let me race is remarkable. I can’t thank Grey’s enough. They’ve been amazingly supportive.”
It’s interesting to find out that Dempsey’s life began in the circus, doing different jobs. He says that’s where he learned how to handle the media circus that sometimes follows him. “You learn to be private in a public arena. You block it out. Whether you are working on a TV show or you’re in the circus, you learn to find privacy publicly, and you block it all out. If you start to think about these realities (TV and racing), you’d be paralyzed with anxiety and fear. Coming from the circus and learning that early on prepared me to take all that on.”
What does he get out of racing that acting doesn’t give him? “I’ve loved it since I was a kid,” he says. “There is something that you’re really testing yourself. You’re going into your own fears and anxieties, and you have to test yourself physically and mentally. I think that’s what I like about it, and the sense of fellowship and camaraderie.”
Dempsey, 47, was happy to tell a room full of TV writers at the recent TCA summer press tour, that he met Paul Newman “at Long Beach many years ago right when I started racing. Mr. Newman was great because all we talked about was racing and how bad the qualifying session was for him. And that was really nice. I never got a chance to race with him unfortunately. And I met James Garner at Indianapolis and talked to him briefly.”
Revealing that his wife actually got him into it, Dempsey says, “She opened Pandora’s box by giving me the Skip Barber certificate to go and learn how to race. She realizes it’s important for me as a person to do it, and she allows me that and supports me in that. And the kids love it. My daughter wants to race, and she’s a good driver already. It’s a rite of passage, learning how to drive.” And for some like Dempsey it turns into a passion. And he will have 24 hours to realize his dream when the Le Mans checkered flag drops. Tune in Velocity to see how he does behind the wheel.