Actor Patrick Dempsey quotes from Wind Tunnel Television and movie actor Patrick Dempsey was a guest on Sunday’s Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain on SPEED. Dempsey, star of the hit TV series Grey’s Anatomy, joined Despain to talk about his love for racing, his driving career in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and his upcoming attempt to compete in the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans with Team Seattle. Following are quotes from the interview:
Despain: Where did this racing interest come from?
Dempsey: “My father was a big fan of racing. He owned a short-track car in Maryland many, many years ago and we always grew up watching the Indy 500 and anything that was on television and I think it started there.”
Despain: Fast-forward a few years … you and your wife were sitting on the couch watching SPEED one night and according to the press release, what was it she said?
Dempsey: “She said, ‘Get off the couch and go racing’ and she got me a three-day competition Skip Barber certificate and that’s what opened the door and I went on to the Panoz racing school and did their series a little bit and was just completely addicted to it and couldn’t stop and got deeper and deeper as it goes along. I wouldn’t be racing without the support of my wife, so Happy Mother’s Day to her.”
Despain: You’re headed to Le Mans in June to race a Ferrari and for a good cause. Tell me about that.
Dempsey: “On so many levels … we’re working with Team Seattle, which is a great thing, and you can go to teamseattle.com and sort of sign up and start making some pledges. Each lap we complete, money goes to that cause for children with heart problems and we’ll be sistering with a hospital in Paris, as well, that’s going to help people. To race a Ferrari at Le Mans is a dream come true. I was over there testing a couple of weeks ago and it’s just an unbelievable experience – it’s like Indy, it’s like the Masters. It all started there. Road racing really started there and you can feel that history. It’s an amazing experience to be a part of it and for such a great cause, as well, so I’m very fortunate to be teamed up with Don Kitch and my partner here, Joe Foster, and hopefully we have good luck and can complete every lap – that’s the goal – to get the experience and see where it all ends up.”
Despain: I’m intrigued by the fact you’re dyslexic – diagnosed at age 12, which you have in common with world champion Jackie Stewart, who was not diagnosed until his kids were diagnosed. His kids were actually diagnosed and they diagnosed him and found he was too. He said it took a huge weight off his shoulders because he realized that there was an explanation for all the trouble he had in school. You said dyslexia helped make you what you are today and I’m wondering how?
Dempsey: “Well, certain things didn’t come easy to me and I had to figure out how to survive that and overcome those obstacles and I think that’s what really has made a big difference right now in my life. There are certain skills I wish I had that I don’t have but I work on them and I think it helped me to survive 25 years in the film business and certainly the entertainment business - overcoming your obstacles and not giving up – I think that’s what it taught me. At the same time, when you’re young, I think it’s very hard when you’re seeing people succeeding and leading and improving and doing things you can’t. That was something else I had to overcome and I feel for young people who are being diagnosed with that. It’s just a gift in many ways and you just have to figure out the tools to survive it and move on.”
Despain: You list as heroes Paul Newman, Phil Hill and Carroll Shelby. You and Newman have in common the obvious – actors turned racers. What is it about him you admire?
Dempsey: “He got started in racing quite late – I believe he was 40 years old and he stuck at it for a very long time and became very good at that profession and that’s something you always have to keep in your mind. It requires a lot of seat time and a strong commitment to do that and he did that and was very successful and placed second at Le Mans. He went once and did a great job there. Plus, what he did with his job and his visibility – the Hole in the Wall Gang, Newman’s Own, all that stuff – the charity he did and the resources he gave back to people is an amazing thing. Also, a phenomenal actor and a great husband, so I think all the things together combined into someone you really want to look at. I look up to … I think, ‘What would he do? How can I sort of live up to what he’s done for some things?’ You get those questions a lot. It is a shame he isn’t here anymore because I would have liked to have spent time talking to him about how he got started racing, his philosophy and how he got to the level he got to.”
Despain: Last week you raced in the rain in New Jersey and finished seventh in class. You own the rights to Garth Stein’s book, The Art of Racing in the Rain, told from the viewpoint of his SPEED TV-loving dog Enzo. Will this movie get made and if so, will you play Danny Swift?
Dempsey: “I hope to. That’s the reason for doing it. I’m very fortunate to have a great relationship with Mazda. We run the RX8 in the Grand-Am Series. Everybody came up to me going, ‘You have to read this book. You have to read this book. Do this as a movie.’ And I read the book, fell in love with it, reached out and got the rights. It’s like anything – it takes time to develop the story properly. We are moving forward with that. We have a deal that will close with Universal and we hope to get that script done as soon as possible. It’s probably a year out from production but the goal is to make it and be in it. It’s a tough business, though. The development takes a very long time.”