IRL: Dempsey looks forward to pacing the Indianapolis 500

Patrick Dempsey, portrayer of Dr. Derek Shepherd on the hit TV show "Grey's Anatomy," will be playing another role tomorrow: pace car driver for the start of the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500. Over the years, this task has fallen on...

Patrick Dempsey, portrayer of Dr. Derek Shepherd on the hit TV show "Grey's Anatomy," will be playing another role tomorrow: pace car driver for the start of the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500. Over the years, this task has fallen on actors, race drivers, military notables, industrialists, athletes, and various other celebrities. Dempsey comes to his assignment as a celebrity, racer, Indy Racing League team co-owner and a life-long fan of the 500. It is something he has pursued.

"The opportunity to drive the Pace Car is a tremendous honor," Dempsey said. "I can't get over it. I've been begging for years, and they finally relented. The history, the 91st running of this race. I think Carl Fisher was the first man to do it, from 1911 to 1916, I believe, and then you look at all of the drivers, the people and the celebrities over the years. Carroll Shelby has done it, Jackie Stewart has done it, and, of course, Lance Armstrong last year. Just to be a part of the history of this track, it means so much to me. It's unbelievable."

Dempsey's feelings for the 500 run long and deep. "The spirits and the souls that are inhabiting this track," he said, "you can feel them. I'm amazed at who comes up to me each year and says hello. It becomes such a big tradition. I think that's why this race is so unbelievable, for the drivers to win it, what it means. For the fans to come, what it means for them and their lives here at the track, depending on their age.

"For me, growing up, we would listen to it in the car because they would postpone the telecast. So we would hide in the car and listen to it on the car radio. And then we'd watch the race at night. So to be here for the last four years, it's just a magical thing for me."

Patrick's personal relationship with the Speedway and Indy Racing began in 2004, when he attended the 500 as a celebrity guest. His passion for racing grew, attending racing schools and competing in the Panoz GT Series in 2004. He currently drives professionally in the Grand American Cup. In 2006 he joined Tony and Laura George as a co-owner of Vision Racing.

"I get to hang out in the pits and watch the drivers," Dempsey said of the benefits of being a team owner. "That's the best thing. You're in it, you're participating in the sport and helping when you can....for me, I really love being in the pits."

Racing and driving the pace car are not quite enough for Dempsey.  He has
plans to merge his racing and his acting.  And to do it properly.

"I'm working on a movie right now," he said. "We're working on something that's set in the American Le Mans Series. It would start at the Petit Le Mans, and end at Sebring. So we're working on that, and hopefully we can get that off the ground. The goal with that is you want to make an entertaining movie, but at the same time you want to be credible.

"Racing movies in the past have certainly let the fans of racing down. And the more we can stay around the world of racing and really bring that nuance to that, capture that, and also entertain the people who don't like racing, that's a real struggle. It's been a three year project for us, trying to get it finely tuned. We're hoping to get it done next year."

So when you see the pace car lead the field of 33 to the green flag at the start of the 91st Indianapolis 500, the man behind the wheel is not just another actor doing a celebrity gig. He's an actor with a real passion for racing. And he has goals to put something back into it though both his team ownership and his art.

Be part of something big

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jackie Stewart , Patrick Dempsey