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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Actor and racing enthusiast Patrick Dempsey is trying to keep a low profile at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
A day after he and his wife announced they are divorcing after 15 years of marriage, Dempsey skipped an autograph session for fans — an event he usually takes part in — and was noticeably absent on the starting grid before the twice-around-the-clock endurance race at Daytona International Speedway. Dempsey is part of a four-man driver lineup in the No. 58 Porsche 911 fielded by Wright Motorsports.
The 49-year-old "Grey's Anatomy" star spoke Friday before news broke that he and wife Jillian Fink mutually agreed to end their marriage.
He talked about being in the best shape of his life, which he's hoping will have him prepared for a full racing schedule that includes at least 10 endurance events, and his next Hollywood project.
He also hinted at potential life changes.
"For me, I've been incredibly fortunate to have 'Grey's' run as long as it has," Dempsey said. "It's been a tremendous gift, and it's allowed all of this to happen. That's been taking up a lot of time, and of course, you have a life off the track and your family and trying to balance that out and make that work and then focusing on the racing.
"It would be nice to be one-pointed and not spread so thin sometimes. I think where I'm going is to really streamline and be much more specific in balancing things a little bit better than I have in the past."
Dempsey also optioned Michael Cannell's racing book "The Limit" as a potential drama series at Sundance TV. Published in 2011, the book tells the story of Phil Hill, a California mechanic who in 1961 became the first American-born driver to win the Formula One championship.
"We did one draft and we weren't happy with it, so we're going back with some new writers and working on it again and distilling it down," Dempsey said. "It's more of what happens off the track.
"It's what happens when you take the helmet off and where are you and what's going on the personal level and the psychological aspect of it and the time and place with the dynamic of Ferrari and the emergence of Porsche and what was happening nationally. All these dynamics are fascinating to explore."
Dempsey has been a part of other racing-related projects. He was executive producer of "Racing Le Mans," a four-part docuseries chronicling his participation in France's famous 24-hour race. Dempsey's company, Shifting Gears Entertainment, also is attached to produce the "Art of Racing in the Rain."
Dempsey signed a two-year deal last January to remain on "Grey's Anatomy" through a potential 12th season. He has starred as Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd since the drama's inception. He is one of the few remaining original stars on the series.
"I'm not going to give up acting no matter how much I love racing," Dempsey said.
Dempsey has driven in more than 70 races across varying levels and series, and believes he's getting better with age.
"I have that much more experience now," he said. "There's that much more race experience, better conditioning, better understanding of the feel of the car and how to communicate that to the engineers and trusting that. It just keeps improving the more I do it, and the more consistency I have in the car, the better I can drive."
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