"When I go to the track, all the racers want to become actors and all the actors want to become racers. And there are a lot of parallels between the two careers."
Flying just below the Hollywood radar can often be good for an acting career: good for its longevity, good for one’s lifestyle, and, not least of all, good for the psyche. This tactic, if you can call it that, has provided Patrick Dempsey with consistent success in film, theater, and TV for the past two decades.
At the time of Celebrity Car’s visit, he was starting a family and had settled down in the Hollywood Hills. And he has acquired a couple of choice cars, vehicles that reflect his personality and the type of enduring, if not superstar, success he has achieved.
In the 1980s, Dempsey, a vaudevillian steeped in the arts of juggling and unicycling, emerged as a teen idol. With leading rolls in two hit comedies, Can’t Buy Me Love (1987) and Loverboy (1989), the young actor, just into his 20s, capitalized on the era’s teen-movie craze.
His career continued strong throughout the 1990s, landing roles that reflected both his range and his evolution as an actor. Starting with the film Coupe de Ville about a trio of brothers road-tripping from Detroit, Mich., to Miami, Fla., to deliver a classic Cadillac, he would star in more than 20 films in 10 years, wrapping up the decade as an L.A.P.D. detective in the horror spoof Scream 3.
He’s probably best known for his role as Dr. Derek Shepherd on the TV show Grey’s Anatomy.
Long before Dempsey discovered his natural talent to perform, he had a passion for racing, a fascination with fast automobiles and a need for speed.
“I’ve always loved cars,” Dempsey told Celebrity Car. “I would always watch the Indy 500 and Daytona with my father. He had a stock car when he was younger that he used to race — it must have been in the ’50s — so I always grew up with it.
“I spent pretty much all the money I made on [Can’t Buy Me Love] on my Porsche. I was living in Santa Monica (Calif.) at the time, and I had passed the car on the street and it had a For Sale sign on it. The woman who owned it — I’m the third owner — was doing ADR [Audio Dubbing and Recording]. And believe it or not, it was the car that they used for the sound in Top Gun . . . for the Porsche that was in that movie. So I bought it off the street from her, and it was pretty much a turning point car for me.”
In many ways, the car symbolizes his career success, his style and his pragmatism, having had the classic 1963 Cabriolet as a daily driver for close to 20 years by his estimation. With countless trips to so many studios and shooting locations, the engine has been rebuilt several times.
“We put the Webers (carburetors) on it, so it’s probably making 65 horsepower,” he guesses. “You can have a lot of fun through the canyons in that car.”
Dempsey plans on a ground-up restoration, which might even be under way as you read this.
“The whole principle of having cars is to use them, not to sock them away in some garage. It would be nice to have seven cars, so then you have one for each day of the week. But maybe that’s too indulgent. I don’t think my wife would appreciate that.”
Apparently, though, she’s OK with having enough cars for a weekend. At the time of our visit, Dempsey had taken delivery of a new Panoz Esperante, the crème de la crème of hand-built, limited-edition, luxury sports cars.
“I was looking for something unusual, something reliable, which this car is. As a daily driver you can really hammer on the car, drive it aggressively, and you don’t have problems with it. What I also love is that it’s an entry-level car for racing.”
At age 41, Dempsey has even participated in several competitive race events such as the Baja 1000 off-road meet as well as several series on asphalt. He’s also part owner of an Indycar series openwheel team.
Is he following in the footsteps of other famous actors-turned-racecar-drivers?
“Paul Newman started when he was 40,” he quips. “. . . I just love the culture and camaraderie. It’s a passion that I’ve always had and I’m finally getting to a point in my life where I better do it now or I’m not gonna do it. It’s funny. When I go to the track in Atlanta (Ga.), all the racers want to become actors and all the actors want to become racers. And there are a lot of parallels between the two careers.”
As for the car itself, Dempsey appreciates what it stands for as much as how it drives.
“It’s nice to show up at a stoplight and you’re not the tenth guy in line with a Porsche,” he says, describing your typical West Hollywood or Beverly Hills intersection . . . it’s just nice to have something that’s completely different than everybody else.”
The Panoz, a fusion of classic roadster styling and new technology, has a 320-horsepower Ford V8 under the hood.
“What’s great about owning a Panoz is that any time something new comes up, they call you and refit the car. So the car evolves as the company evolves . . . We’re gonna do a different body kit to it, which will look like the new racing car, probably drop the suspension a little bit and up the horsepower so it’s close to 500.”
Perhaps cruising below the radar is a bit much to ask.