DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — There were tears in Patrick Dempsey’s eyes last year when he suggested he might quit his day job as Dr. Derek Shepherd on Grey’s Anatomy to devote more time to his real love – racing.
Dempsey’s Mazda had just finished third among GT entries in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, and his reaction proved just how passionate stars from different walks of life are for the race.
This year’s race, the 50th anniversary of the first sports car race at Daytona International Speedway, again will feature an all-star lineup of drivers from sports cars, NASCAR, IndyCars and Formula One, as well as the silver screen and concert stage. No other event attracts so many diverse people as a participant. But make no mistake: This is far from a publicity stunt.
“First of all we were thinking, well, if we can just finish and have a bit of fun, but it’s starting to change now,” said AC/DC front man Brian Johnson, who will make his 24-hour debut this week.
Since the first sports car race 50 years ago – the three-hour Daytona Continental – to Saturday’s race (3:30 p.m., SPEED), the race has had several milestone events. Dan Gurney’s win in 1962 got things started, and it was followed by a one-two-three sweep by Ford in the first 24-hour race in 1966.
Then there was Hurley Haywood’s first of a record five-overall wins for Jacksonville-based Brumos in 1973, a fourth-place finish by Dale Earnhardt in 2001 – 14 days before his death on the final lap of the Daytona 500, and a 75-yard Brumos win in 2009 with David Donohue, Darren Law, Antonio Garcia and Buddy Rice.
And last year’s win by Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Graham Rahal and Joey Hand made car owner Chip Ganassi the defending winner for the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and the 24-hour race.
“What makes it cool is it’s Daytona,” Gurney said.
Practice and qualifying for the 50th edition starts today.
A year ago Dempsey’s team finished third in its class, which earned them a spot on the podium. The movie star said he’s always been a racer at heart.
“My wife told me to get off the couch and chase my dream,” Dempsey said. “This was an enjoyably, tragic, fun moment.”