CROWN POINT | Patrick Dempsey, star of the ABC hospital drama "Grey's Anatomy," is not a real doctor. He just plays one on TV.
Jay Patel, M.D., an interventional radiologist with Franciscan St. Margaret Health in Dyer and Hammond, is the real thing.
That was pointed out to a Dempsey Racing Team member during a break in the action amid "The Roar before the 24 Hours of Daytona," a weekend test-drive event at the Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the "Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona."
"He had asked (Dempsey) what he thought would be the correct procedure in treating Michael Shumacher," Patel said of the multiple Formula One champion, who remains in a coma after a recent skiing accident. "That's when Pat said, 'Don't ask me. The real doctor is sitting over there.'"
Patel was also a member of Dempsey Racing Team. He was recommended by the team's engineer, Jim Bell, to serve as one of the team's test drivers at the "Roar."
"I always say, 'Shoot for the stars and you might hit the moon,'" said the 45-year-old Crown Point man, who starting racing sports cars five years ago. "I've always dreamed of racing at Daytona, but starting so late in life I knew the odds weren't in my favor."
Patel has been moving up in the Sports Car Club of America national circuit. Previously racing in the Touring 2 class (modified street cars), Patel has advanced to the Grand Touring 2 class (factory made, "purpose-built" racing cars) shortly after winning at the inaugural SCCA Circuit of Americas last March in Austin, Tex.
Patel bested a field of 85, which included several professional drivers.
"And I managed to pass a Corvette and a Mustang on the final turn," said Patel, who drove a Porsche 911.
Going from T2 to GT2 is a big jump.
"I felt I finally became one with the car," Patel said of his T2-class Porsche. "The (GT2) Porsche I'm driving now is much more difficult to master, but I'm getting there."
Dempsey's Porsche 911 GT America was a step even higher.
"The car is worth a half a million dollars," Patel said of the vehicle Dempsey and fellow drivers Andrew Davis and Joe Foster piloted at the 24 Hours of Daytona on Jan. 25-26.
"To trust someone like me -- with little racing experience -- enough to put me in a car like that was unusual," Patel said. "People had to be asking, 'Who is this guy?' Even when I got down there, I didn't believe it was going to happen until I strapped myself into the driver's seat."
After a snafu wiped out Patel's scheduled run, he finally got to hit the track the following day.
"Driving up on Daytona's banking oval was an unbelievable experience," Patel said. "You've got to turn your head a certain way or all you'll see in front of you is the turning track."
Due to an oil pump failure, Dempsey's team finished 24th in its class.
Patel has a doctor-patient-like relationship with Bell, except for Patel the role is reversed.
"I've worked with Jim many times before, and the way we effectively communicate with each other definitely helped get me to Daytona," Patel said. "When you test drive a car, the more specific you are to the engineer, the more likely he can make improvements.
"But if you just go 'The car is slow ... fix it. Okay then, why is it slow? It's just slow.' You're not giving the engineer much to work with. It's like when a patient sees me. If they just say, 'My leg hurts. Okay, does it hurt on your instep? ... Do you feel numbness in your feet?' You try to get as much information as you can so you can perform the proper treatment."