The “Grey’s Anatomy” star will produce “Road to Le Mans,” a four-part series about his competition in the venerable French race, the Velocity channel said Thursday.
Dempsey, who has a professional auto racing team based in Georgia, will be both owner and driver at the 24-hour endurance race in June.
“Road to Le Mans,” set to air by mid-2013, will include his team’s preparation for the event, including sponsor acquisition, training and time trials, and the race itself.
Dempsey, a documentary buff, said combining the series and the art of racing is a “perfect fit.”
For the fledgling, 6-month-old Velocity, “Road to Le Mans” represents its biggest financial commitment yet to a series or a special, said Bob Scanlon, the channel’s general manager and senior vice president.
Velocity is part of Discovery Communications, which was to announce its channels’ upcoming programming Thursday in New York for advertisers. Formerly HD Theater, Velocity reaches about 40 million homes and focuses on topics including cars, sports, adventure and travel.
Dempsey, who has driven at Le Mans before, exemplifies the “timeless cool” that is part of the channel’s brand as it targets a male, upscale audience, Scanlon said.
The actor also can bring racing’s drama to a new generation, he said, following in the tradition of other stars who competed on film and in real life, including Paul Newman (“Winning”), James Garner (“Grand Prix”) and Steve McQueen (“Le Mans”).
The mix, however, creates a burden of proof that an actor isn’t merely a dilettante driver.
“You have people who are skeptical, who are looking for any mistake to make that the story, rather than the small things you’ve done successfully,” Dempsey said.
He and his Mazda racing team have gained increasing credibility. Even with commitments to his day job that limit his competition, Dempsey’s posted top 10 finishes, including a career-best third last year with his teammates at the Rolex 24 in Daytona Beach, Fla.
His love of the sport is based on elements including its physical and mental challenges and something hard to find in Hollywood: “Control of your own destiny,” Dempsey said. The track also is definitive.
“In racing, either you’re fast and you’re the first one across the line, or you’re not,” he said.
At this point, his heart is with screen projects about the sport, Dempsey said. Besides “Road to Le Mans,” he is to star in the film adaptation of Garth Stein’s 2008 novel, “The Art of Racing in the Rain.”
He’s been devoted to the project, which finally found a home at Universal, for five years.
“It’s the material for me that’s gonna generate the most passion,” he said. “With ‘Grey’s,’ after eight years, there’s very little left to explore and you’re pretty much on autopilot.”
That sounds as if he’s ready to call it quits as Dr. Derek Shepherd, aka McDreamy, on the ABC medical drama. But he demurs.
“Nothing has been resolved, either to end or to continue,” he said, adding diplomatically that “one has to be grateful” for work opportunities in today’s economic climate.