Dempsey's racing dream premieres at Le Mans

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Dempsey's racing dream premieres at Le Mans

Hollywood and Le Mans most notably united with Steve McQueen's Le Mans in 1971. The modern day incarnation of an American acting heartthrob going to Le Mans is Patrick Dempsey, though he has not traveled here merely to promote his latest movie...

Hollywood and Le Mans most notably united with Steve McQueen's Le Mans in 1971. The modern day incarnation of an American acting heartthrob going to Le Mans is Patrick Dempsey, though he has not traveled here merely to promote his latest movie or television series.

Patrick Dempsey.
Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt.

Dempsey will be walking a red carpet, but it is the one outlining the trailer of his red, white and blue Team Seattle Advanced Engineering #81 Ferrari F430 GT in GT2.

He is widely recognized worldwide as Dr. Derek Shepherd, or Dr. "McDreamy" on the American television series Grey's Anatomy. To racing enthusiasts, he is known as someone learning and improving the craft of driving.

For Dempsey, racing at Le Mans is the pinnacle of a burgeoning racing career that began only a few years ago. He's driven in the Grand-Am KONI Challenge and Rolex Series divisions before, but like his teammates Joe Foster and Don Kitch Jr., this is his first time here.

"It's been overwhelming," Dempsey said. "The response at tech was quite special. I was just blown away by the energy of the people. The depth of the photos and history with the fans is remarkable. They are well-prepared."

At scrutineering, throngs of fans and media alike were hoping to catch a glimpse or autograph. Jim Jordan, who works for Mazdaspeed Motorsports in Irvine, Calif., served as Dempsey's escort amidst it all. When asked his plan for how to handle it all, Jordan cleverly replied, "Find an escape route."

Dempsey has many reasons for catching the racing bug, not the least of which was his father's bringing home Matchbox cars from work when he was a child.

"I enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship of it all, plus the sounds, the smell, the challenge," Dempsey said. Stepping on track here at Le Mans is very hallowed grounds, and quite magical. My father brought home little Matchboxes and that's where it all started."

In his career, the KONI Challenge events in 2006 and 2007 blossomed into a full-time KONI ride, then a transition to the Grand-Am Rolex Series for five races in 2008.

In four races in the Rolex Series this year, Dempsey's best finish is seventh in class twice. He co-drives the Dempsey Racing Mazda RX-8 with Foster, formerly called Hyper Sport but renamed following Dempsey's investment.

#81 Advanced Engineering Team Seattle Ferrari F430 GT: Patrick Dempsey, Don Kitch Jr., Joe Foster.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Dempsey also is still involved as a partner in the IndyCar Series' Vision Racing, having joined the team in 2006. He admitted more time is focused on Grand-Am and not as much on IndyCar; he has little to no say in the decisions Vision makes.

"Grand-Am takes up a lot of my time, more so with Dempsey Racing at this point," Dempsey said.

This team is a combination of AF Corse preparation and Team Seattle under the Advanced Engineering banner. Team Seattle has raced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona since 1997 as part of an effort to raise money for the Seattle Children's Hospital.

Kitch, who founded the program, said Team Seattle has raised 3.2 million in the U.S. for Children's Hospital in 12 years. Both he and Foster said they wanted to run in GT2 as a startup team and were thankful to the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) for allowing a team of inexperienced rookies to race.

While winning in class is a doubtful proposition, the team is committed to finishing the race to achieve their main goal of raising as many dollars as possible.

"I'm very proud of this project, after it all began two years ago," Kitch said. "I knew what it could look like, but I'd hoped they'd all buy into us. It's roughly $680 per lap completed."

"To see the goal of raising all this money finally reached, after all the work to this point, is very moving," Dempsey said. "Racing is more about life's journey than the race itself. This race does both."

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Series GRANDAM , LEMANS