Local doc spends free time on the fast track

2013-03-19T15:45:00Z 2013-03-20T12:43:11Z Local doc spends free time on the fast trackBy Vanessa Renderman vanessa.renderman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3244 nwitimes.com

On weekdays, Dr. Jay Patel opens clogged arteries and performs other minimally invasive procedures as an interventional radiologist.

On weekends, he trades hospital procedure rooms for race tracks.

The 44-year-old Crown Point man is an amateur driver, recently defeating two professional drivers in the inaugural BF Goodrich Sports Car Club of America Majors race in Austin, Texas.

"Going down to the Circuit of the Americas, it's everybody's dream now to go there and race," he said. "I qualified third. We had 85 cars in the run group."

Near the end of the race, Patel was confident he would finish in the top three. While the two drivers ahead of Patel focused on each other, he snuck past.

"The last corner of the race I knew, 'I'm gonna duck in on the inside and go to the checkered flag first,'" he said. "I saw my opportunity and I took it."

The move earned him the top spot on the winners block.

"Go figure," he said. "They brought in pros for the race, and I beat them."

The Munster-raised married father of two, who works for Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospitals in Hammond and Dyer and Franciscan Physicians Hospital in Munster, was not always on the fast tracks.

When he was a long-haired teen at Munster High School, he dreamed of playing guitar in a rock band.

"That only takes you so far," he said. "You have to have something to fall back on."

He went to school to study medicine.

One day, in upstate New York, on a break from medical training, Patel was working on his modified BMW in a grocery store parking lot.

A man walked up and complimented him on the car and asked Patel if he had ever raced it. Patel hadn't. The man, who turned out to be a BMW racing vice president, invited him to the famous Watkins Glen course for a drive.

With the man in the passenger seat, Patel was hitting the corners hard and driving how he thought he should.

"I get back to the start/finish line, and he said, 'You made me sick,'" Patel said. "He went in the driver's seat and said, 'I'll show you how it's done.'"

The man was impressed how quickly Patel absorbed the instruction and encouraged him to keep it up.

Patel moved back to the region and joined a race track, where he could drive as a hobby. People repeatedly encouraged him to compete.

"I started racing and I started winning," he said. "I was like, 'What do I do?' I just started competing and the next thing you know, I'm racing and I'm beating pros."

He even beat the famous driver Bobby Rahal, during a race on a simulator.

Patel grew up watching the Indy 500 with his dad. And although he enjoys it, racing will remain a weekend hobby.

"I would never give up medicine," Patel said. "I love what I do, taking care of people."

He admits there are safety risks, but life is full of risks, he said.

"Like going on the Dan Ryan," he said.

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