Photo: © Garth Milan/Red Bull Media House North America, Inc.
When you see a celebrity playing a sport, many times it’s on a golf course during a charity game or as part of a Pro-Am.Adrenaline junkies they are not.
However, there is another group of celebrities that look to something a bit less mundane that requires a whole lot of adrenaline.
We’re talking about auto racing.
Ever since the 1950s, a select few celebrities have gotten off the golf course and thrown out their tennis racquets in order to seek a thrill greater than running after a tiny ball.
Some have just done it recreationally while others have had the desire and skill to consider making it their full time profession.
Hollywood bad boy James Dean may have been one of the first stars to also get behind the wheel.
A big Porsche fan, Dean actually won a few races in the 1950s. He also had a Lotus Mark IX on order to take his racing career to the next level.
Unfortunately, he died behind the wheel of his Porsche 550A Spyder while driving to a race. He was just 24.
Actor Steve McQueen was another racing star that dabbled in filmmaking.
He won his class at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1970 driving a Porsche 908 with Peter Revson.
He also made Bullit and the racing film Le Mans, which is widely considered the most accurate racing film of all time. He did much of the driving and his own stunts in both films.
James Garner may be an actor, but he also has a huge passion for motor racing.
Garner had his own team, American International Racing, which ran endurance races around the world.
He also prepared cars to run in the Baja 500.
Dr. McDreamy is not just a racing fan...he's a very active participant.
Dempsey Racing competes in the Grand Am Series with the good doctor as one of the drivers. And he doesn't do too shabby.
Dempsey's Mazda RX8 finished 10th in class at this year's 24 Hours of Daytona, marking his third straight year finishing in the top 10. In 2011, his team was third in class.
Dempsey also had the honour of taking laps around the Circuit de la Sarthe in the only Japanese car to ever win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Mazda 787B in 2011.
Yes, the 90210 star is also a speed freak.
Priestley spent some time in the broadcast booth for the IZOD IndyCar Series and competed in Firestone Indy Lights himself.
However, he suffered a massive crash on the oval in Kentucky in 2002. He hit the wall head on and, according to ABC News, was legally dead for 45 seconds.
He hasn't spent much time in the cockpit since, but has been part of the ownership group for a couple different IndyCar teams.
Angels pitcher CJ Wilson has actually made it clear that his real passion is motorsports.
He has his own race team that is fielding cars in the Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship.
CJ has also won his class at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson is a known gearhead. His appearances on Top Gear have shown him driving his classic 1930s Bentley as well as Top Gear's own reasonably priced Kia.
But this year he took to the track at the 24 Hours of Daytona in a prototype race car.
They finished 32nd overall, but the screaming singer seemed to get a kick out of the entire experience.
Below is a video of Johnson making a less than graceful exit from his race car (via YouTube):
Rowan 'Mr. Bean' Atkinson is an avowed car nut and club racer.
He has run everything from vintage cars to modern Aston Martins on track in the pursuit of speed.
On a more unfortunate note, he recently crashed his McLaren F1 on the street, a car worth well over $1 million. Luckily he wasn't injured.
Tom Cruise hit the track in Days of Thunder but also for real in SCCA competition.
According to an interview with SCCA champ Roger French, Cruise was fast, but he also did not know how to preserve the car.
However, that didn't stop him from setting a record lap around the Top Gear Test Track in 2010. It also didn't stop the Red Bull F1 Team from letting Tom take a ride in its championship winning car.
Australian actor Eric Bana grew up in car crazed Australia and made an early allegiance to Ford, and in particular, the Falcon.
As he grew up and gained fame, Bana started racing in Porsche Cup cars, but always kept his Falcon in mind.
He rebuilt it and entered it in a road rally which was filmed for his movie Love the Beast. He ended up crashing the behemoth into some trees, but fully repaired it afterwards.
Yes, Malcolm in the Middle himself is a madman behind the wheel.
After filming concluded on the show, Muniz signed a contract, probably a misguided one, with little known team owner Eric Jensen to run a number of races in Formula BMW and Formula Atlantic, on the way to running in the Champ Car series.
It didn't end up working out.
His website, www.frankiemunizracing.com, appears to be dormant, so we're unsure of his current activities on track.
Tim Allen is another celeb who traded in some time in front of the camera for time behind the wheel.
His character on Home Improvement wasn't close to being fictional; Allen loves cars and racing.
He ran a Saleen Mustang in the 1997 24 Hours of Daytona, coming home in a not so great 58th place out of 80 cars.
Does anyone remember the show Coach? Because the star, Craig T. Nelson, decided he loved racing in 1994 after a Toyota Celebrity Race.
He founded his own racing team named after the football team on his TV show and ran three straight times at the 24 Hours of Daytona.
He never finished the race.
Hackman, like Paul Newman, was a competitor in the SCCA in a Formula Ford in the 1970s.
Perhaps the most widely known example of a celebrity racing driver is Paul Newman. He might also be the most accomplished.
He didn't actually start racing until he was filming the 1969 movie Winning, but he found afterwards that he really had a knack for it. Newman won SCCA National Championships and ran a number of endurance races. He also wouldn't sign autographs at the track. PLN (as he was known on track) just wanted to be treated as one of the guys.
Newman continued racing until days before his death.
He loved racing so much that he also entered a partnership with Illinois businessman Carl Haas to form one of the most successful IndyCar teams of all time. Over the years the roster included champion drivers like Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Cristiano Da Matta, and Sebastien Bourdais, among many others.
The video below is of Paul driving on his home track, Lime Rock Park in Connecticut. Each year, his car number was the same as his age.
His number here is 79. His last car was number 83 (via YouTube):
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