Top TV doc Dempsey makes name in sports-car racing

Patrick Dempsey’s character in “Can’t Buy Me Love” spent all summer mowing lawns to save up for a telescope.Dempsey didn’t need the science instrument to set his sights on the object he really wanted: a Porsche 356.With his first paycheck from the 1980s teen flick, Dempsey didn’t go for any old beater, he went big and bought the classic 1963 Porsche.

 Patrick Dempsey

And it wasn’t something he did on a whim, but with a passion for the brand. Dempsey still owns and drives the Porsche, a luxury car he planned to keep in the family, especially for his kids who love going for long rides near the family home in California.

“It’s fun to drive down the coast in that,” Dempsey said. “That car is as so much fun to drive today as it was when it was first released.”

Dempsey has long bypassed the highways for race courses across the country to follow his passion for racing. He formed Dempsey Racing in 2002 and had his first competitive driving experience in 2004. He made his debut in the GT series in 2007, and ever since has tried to balance the commitment of racing weekends with an active acting career that included movie roles in “Enchanted,” and “Freedom Writers.”

He’s riding high after one of the best finishes of his career.

Dempsey and teammate Andrew Davis are coming off their first podium finish in the revamped sports car series after taking third in August at Virginia International Raceway.

Dempsey was set to race Saturday in the Lone Star Le Mans at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. The 2-hour, 45-minute race is the penultimate round of the inaugural IMSA Tudor United SportsCar Championship.

Dempsey and Davis drive the No. 27 Dempsey Racing Porsche 911 GT America in the GT Daytona class.

“I’m a long time Porsche fan,” Dempsey said. “There’s a passion for it.”

Dempsey’s familiarity didn’t help him when he ran into trouble during practice at Virginia; he swerved off course and made heavy contact with the tire barriers. The No. 27 was scraped and dented and needed a new rear-end clip.

“Any other track, you’d spin off and you wouldn’t touch anything,” Dempsey said. “That’s part of the fun and challenge and excitement of the tracks. The guys had a lot of work to do. I put them in a very difficult position. But they rallied and did a phenomenal job.”

Dempsey and Davis missed qualifying forcing the team to start in the back of the grid. Dempsey started the race and Davis raced into the top three during his stint and held his spot after a late caution could have wiped out a solid run.

“We had good calls, good track position and the race came our way,” Dempsey said.

Patrick Dempsey at Le Mans
Patrick Dempsey at Le Mans

Dempsey, in tears when he earned a podium finish at the prestigious Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2011, was overcome again by stepping onto the podium with Davis in celebration. Plenty of actors win an Emmy or an Oscar. Not many score major finishes in premier races.

“It’s the most exhilarating, moving experience when you put your foot on that podium and you put that trophy above your head,” Dempsey said. “You know how fortunate you are to get there and how hard you had to work to get there. For me, it was an incredibly moving experience.”

Dempsey Racing is on a roll. At Road America, Madison Snow and Jan Heylen finished third in the No. 58 Dempsey Racing Porsche 911 GT America.

“It’s nice to have a friendly competition where they’re pushing you and you’re pushing them,” Dempsey said. “We want one of our cars to be up there, if not both.”

Oh, there is his day job. Dempsey has been a prime-time stalwart of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” since 2005.

He had to hurry off the set Wednesday — taking a break from his role as Dr. Derek Shepherd — so he could prepare for this weekend’s race.

“I’m waiting to figure out if I’m released to get to the race,” Dempsey said. “But yeah, I’m working.”

Trying to balance acting and racing has been Dempsey’s biggest obstacle.

“ABC and the show and the producers have been incredibly supportive to allow me to go racing,” he said. “I can’t thank them enough for that. The exposure has helped me tremendously get sponsors.”

It sure doesn’t hurt to hoist some trophies over his head.