“Mr. Dempsey, are you serious about racing
in the World Endurance Championship?”
Those words, coming from the WEC chief
steward, almost made me laugh.
Fortunately, despite my jet-lagged state,
I managed to contain my humorous view
of both the question and the situation,
and simply answered, “Yes sir.”
The reason I was called to the “principal’s”
office: I missed the mandatory driver’s
meeting as well as the first practice session
for the 2015 WEC opener at Silverstone.
And the reason for that? I was filming my
last day as Dr. Derrick Shepard in Grey’s
Anatomy on location in Seattle. I think most
people would look at leaving a hit TV show
(not fired, contrary to the media feeding
frenzy) as demonstration of serious intent...
It’s been quite the journey to get on the
WEC grid as part of the Dempsey Proton
Racing Porsche team. I grew up a race fan,
and still remember listening to the Indy 500
on the radio in the back of the family car. My
dad loved racing and taught me to love it, too.
At a young age, my competitive fire
was stoked on ski racing in my home town
in Maine. I had enough determination and
drive to win a state slalom championship.
It was the day-to-day preparation
necessary to be a successful competitor
that drew me in. I remember reading as a
kid about a ski racer who worked on balance
by riding a unicycle; naturally, I learned to
ride one. Then my shop teacher at school
taught me how to juggle, which helped
improve my eye-hand coordination. I got so
good at juggling that I started to perform,
which led to acting, which led to theater,
movies, television and a career as an actor.
Fast forward two decades. I was
experiencing the typical highs and lows of a
Hollywood acting career, and still spending
most of my downtime watching auto racing
on TV. Then a gift from my wife and family
greatly changed the direction to the next
chapter of my life: a three-day course at
the Skip Barber Racing School. This led me
to enroll in the Panoz Racing School,
where I met Charles Espenlaub and Joe
Foster, who became my racing coach,
co-driver, and team partner for a decade.
Shortly after, in 2005, both of my
passions ignited almost simultaneously. The
pilot for Grey’s Anatomy aired mid-season
and became an overnight hit, which in turn
opened doors in the racing world and
allowed me to form the Dempsey Racing
Team. I was also experiencing what I couldn’t
see from a TV screen, the camaraderie
and sportsmanship on and off the track.
From the get-go, racing felt like home.
My next meaningful partnership came
when Charles Espenlaub introduced me
to Jim Jordan. Jim was working in
Mazda’s marketing department and one
of his responsibilities was motorsports
marketing. He managed to align Mazda’s
motorsports and marketing objectives
and my own desire to grow as a racer
through a very interesting program.
IS THAT SERIOUS ENOUGH FOR YOU?
I would provide voice over work for Mazda’s
TV advertising in exchange for an RX- 8
Grand-Am GT racecar! Like a drug pusher,
they even gave me spare parts and just
enough cash to get me into trouble!
Dempsey Racing grew into a
competitive team and my two professions
complemented each other more often than
not. Racing gave me what the acting world
lacked…control. On a broader scale, acting
became a piece of a larger picture and, in
a sense, I never felt like I had ownership.
Racing has always been tangible to me.
Something I could hold onto. I often found
myself returning to set after a race feeling
refreshed, focused and excited to work.
The balance on and off the track has
always been challenging for me. To do
anything well, you must be as focused as
possible. Having too many things on your
plate is very difficult to manage.
On the track, I was able to lead races
and we were a defective battery away
“I think most people would
look at leaving a hit television
show as demonstration of
A RACING JOURNEY
LM GTE-AM PODIUM FINISHER,
2015 24 HOURS OF LE MANS