Fast cars and famous actors belong together. Hollywood stars drive all kinds of cool machinery in their films, and they often use expensive sports cars as their transportation. Usually, though, a look at them behind the wheel is enough to realize that they really are just acting. Watch an actor closely during a chase or when he plays a racer, and you notice that from the way he sits in a car to the way he holds the wheel, he wouldn’t be able to drive fast in real life.
However, there are exceptions. Many actors tried to race for real at some point of their lives. For most of them, it’s just a hobby, something cool to try before they move to next interesting pastime. Only a few managed to find a real talent in themselves and to become real racers. Some even made some kind of career out of racing. And a handful became true racers, even legends in the field.
During the past year, we ran a series that introduced you to some of them. You are likely aware of some, while others may surprise you. It isn’t unexpected to learn that the “king of cool” was also a talented racer, and you surely heard about James Dean’s passion for speed which ultimately led to his untimely end. On the other hand, can you imagine Mr. Bean behind the wheel of (at the time) the fastest road-going car in the world, or successfully competing on a racetrack? And did you know that Paul Newman could become famous even if he did not act, just through his racing career? Or that the Grey’s Anatomy leading star also appears in American LeMans series?
With New Year just around the corner, it’s great time to spend some time reading about famous people who found their second career behind the wheel. Click on their names to read the full stories!
His career in racing was really short – much like his film career. Both ended prematurely when, on 1st October 1955, he was hit by an oncoming driver while on the way Salinas racetrack, behind the wheel of his new Porsche racecar. Still, he managed to prove that he was great both behind the wheel and behind the handlebars during the short time he was given.
If someone says “racing actor”, Steve McQueen is probably the first name that pops into mind. His 1971 movie LeMans is one of the best regarded racing films ever made and he’s equally well-known for the car chase in Bullitt (and the fact he did a lot of driving in it). His racing career, and his exquisite taste in cars, was quite famous and even today, he is an icon of petrolheads all around the world.
He didn’t drive Ferraris or race-ready Jaguars and he didn’t get into racing until his 40s. Still, he managed to become probably the most successful actor-racer ever. He won several titles in SCCA series and he even managed to finish second overall (first in his class) in famous 24h Le Mans endurance race. He was 54 at the time and he kept racing until his 80s.
Although he’s more of a “gentleman racer” and never attended a major race, let alone win, Rowan Atkinson is a bona fide petrolhead and a talented driver. While his most famous character drives a beat-up Mini, Atkinson owns a little fleet of exquisite cars – and is not afraid to really use them.
Probably the closest in our times to Steve McQueen and Paul Newman in the 1960s, Patrick Dempsey managed to build a successful second career in racing. The actor, best known as Dr. Derek Shepherd from Grey’s Anatomy, was regular in various endurance races and his biggest achievement was placing second in his class at 24h LeMans. Even after he quit racing in 2016, he remains close to motorsport as a team owner.