Nascar Driver Kurt Busch Finds His ‘Shooting Star’

First there was a spark. Three years later, more sparks and then Kurt Busch could no longer resist the light.

The first time Mr. Busch crossed paths with Ashley Van Metre, in 2011, he was at a party on her family’s farm in Middleburg, Va. Mr. Busch, a 27-time race winner in Nascar’s Sprint Cup Series (he won the 2004 championship), who now drives the No. 41 Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing, said he sensed “something” after sharing a quick handshake with Ms. Van Metre, a competitive polo player, but thought nothing more of it until three years later when he found himself back in a room with her.

“When I was reintroduced to Ashley, that early moment came back,” Mr. Busch, now 38, recalled, adding, “Later that night, I told her there was ‘a shooting star on the horizon and there she was.’”

Ms. Van Metre was not impressed. “I thought that was a cheesy pickup line,” she said.

Ms. Van Metre, now 26, had traveled to the Charlotte, N.C., area and then went to Martinsville, Va., to attend the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500, a Nascar race in which Mr. Busch, who is a friend of her sister and brother-in-law, was competing.

Once the race was over (Mr. Busch had a car fire and finished 36th), Ms. Van Metre and her family were invited to dinner at Mr. Busch’s house in Mooresville, N.C. After dinner, Mr. Busch and Ms. Van Metre were seated on the couch and began to watch the comedy film “Step Brothers.” Within 20 minutes, her relatives saw them talking and looking at each other, and sensed it was best to leave them alone.


Ms. Van Metre and Mr. Busch arriving at the hotel. CreditRyan Stone for The New York Times

“They felt the sparks fly between us,” Mr. Busch said. “Ashley and I had begun talking about sports, competition, the commitment required for success, where we were in life, etc. I warned her that my racing schedule was tough. But we continued talking until 5 a.m.”

They discovered how much they had in common, especially an intense passion for their dangerous sports: Mr. Busch, a versatile, hard-driving son of Tom Busch, a retired short track driver, and older brother of Kyle Busch, 2015 winner of the Nascar Sprint Cup Series, began his championship career at age 15; Ms. Van Metre, a low-keyed, yet dedicated equestrian, who began riding at 5 and started playing polo with her family at age 11, said she was a “fierce competitor on the field.”

Both agreed they were different people when they put their helmets on.

“I felt an instant connection, something I had never experienced before,” said Ms. Van Metre, who is shy and humble. “We just kept talking and talking.”

Since Mr. Busch had to leave before dawn the next morning for an out-of-town test session with his racing team, he was busy packing when Ms. Van Metre dozed off. Just as he was ready to tell her goodbye, she woke up and planted a kiss on his lips.

“When Kurt left, I felt like I had experienced love at first sight,” she said. “I dated other guys over the years, but no relationship had that spark. He was open and not afraid to talk about anything, so caring and honest.”

Mr. Busch, who divorced in 2011, thought Ms. Van Metre was “beautiful and unselfish.”

“I knew something was there that I wanted to explore,” he added, “but I worried that it would be hard for Ashley to understand my weekends on the road.”


Guests were served a multicourse meal including stone crab legs. CreditRyan Stone for The New York Times

Because of the grueling 10-month Nascar season, with races nearly every weekend, he couldn’t make specific plans to see Ms. Van Metre again for four months when her polo schedule and his racing weekend overlapped in Florida.

“I understood from the start that Kurt lives in his motor home while traveling from race to race,” said Ms. Van Metre, who was home schooled so she could travel, often on the family yacht, and play polo along the East Coast.

So she was not threatened or frustrated by the demands of his career: “His traveling was second nature to me.”

Ms. Van Metre, who is represented by both Wilhelmina Models and Locke Management (where she has been featured in sports and polo-related campaigns often with her family team Altair Polo), had spent much of her life traveling.

Although they talked on the phone, texted and sent voice memos regularly after that first October weekend, Ms. Van Metre got antsy to see Mr. Busch before their scheduled February rendezvous in Florida. In mid-November, she flew to California, where he was busy with a series of meetings.

“When I surprised him, he looked like he had seen a ghost,” she said, laughing. “He kissed me right away, and I hugged him. But I was mortified. I hoped that he really wanted to see me!”


Ms. Van Metre and Mr. Busch at the dinner during their wedding reception. CreditRyan Stone for The New York Times

He did. But their dinners together the next few days always included other people. Then he left for a race in Phoenix.

The following month in Las Vegas, Mr. Busch’s hometown, the couple shared their first romantic meal alone. They dined at Mandalay Bay with a view of the Las Vegas Strip. For several hours, they were so engaged, they practically finished the other’s sentences.

“We were really into having dinner together,” Mr. Busch said. “I liked her style, her etiquette, the way she dressed which was casual yet chic. And I was discovering how low maintenance she was, natural and beautiful while wearing very little makeup.”

Ms. Van Metre liked how Mr. Busch complimented her and seemed to care more about what she wanted than what would benefit him. “I have never had another boyfriend who was so giving,” she said. “It was like my dad is with my mom.”

A couple of weeks later and shortly before Christmas, Ms. Van Metre was vacationing with her family in Vail, Colo. It was Mr. Busch’s turn to surprise her. He had driven a rental car through heavy snow when he arrived at their Saturday morning brunch. He remembers the look on Ms. Van Metre’s mother’s face. “This time, she saw the ghost,” he said.

But that moment became electric when her family realized how serious their relationship had become.

“I watched Ashley and Kurt being close to each other, living in their own little world,” said her father, Albert Van Metre Jr., known as Beau, chairman of the Van Metre Companies, a real estate development firm based in Middleburg. “Since Ashley is a polo player and Kurt is a Nascar driver, I never would have thought it. But the attraction was because of it.”


Mr. Tyler giving a private concert. CreditRyan Stone for The New York Times

Ms. Van Metre’s maid of honor, Isabella Wolf, said she had never seen her friend as happy as she is with him. “When they are together they seem to share a secret, an inside joke they are both in on,” Ms. Wolf said.

Mr. Busch spent Christmas Eve with his parents and much of the holiday season with Ms. Van Metre and her family, buying gifts for all of them. “During that week Kurt gave me rose gold earrings,” she said. “I thought I heard him say, ‘I love you,’ but I wasn’t sure. I had a nervous shock moment after I said, ‘I love you’ back.”

Mr. Busch, who had also spotted an engagement ring at Tiffany & Company, when he bought the earrings, kept thinking of the “magic” between them. “No lies, no game playing, no agenda, nothing but love and respect,” he said. “I was enjoying everything and wanted to play it out a little longer. I felt Ashley was a girl who could help make me a better person.”

Mr. Busch, known for his cantankerous behavior, had been involved in more than one unsettling romantic relationship and frequent blowups on the racing circuit. After a short Nascar suspension in 2015 because a former girlfriend accused him of domestic abuse (no criminal charges were filed by the Delaware attorney general’s office over the reported Sept. 26, 2014, episode, and he was reinstated by the association), his attitude had improved and he felt more grounded.

My antics over the years are well documented,” Mr. Busch said. “While my age has helped me change, Ashley has committed so much time to me and to our relationship, and her dad has quizzed me on being mature and wise. These talks have been so beneficial they even brought me closer to my own father.”

“Kurt’s career is stressful and if he has a bad day, Ashley understands and makes him feel better,” said his mother, Gaye Busch, a retired administrative assistant in the data processing department of the Clark County, Nev., school district. “When he sees her he gets giddy, he lights up. It makes me so happy to see this that I cry.”


The couple watching a slide show at the reception. Their paths first crossed in 2011, when he was at a party on her family’s farm in Middleburg, Va. CreditRyan Stone for The New York Times

Mr. Busch also recognized the effect she had on him, saying, “My mood is better when Ashley is at the track.”

During spring 2015, after playing outdoor sports, visiting night clubs and having their picture taken together during a romantic February vacation on the French-Caribbean island of St. Barts, each attended the other’s sporting events and fit seamlessly into the other’s world.

“Kurt has ridden my polo ponies and met my friends,” Ms. Van Metre said. “And we take his race weeks as the opportunity to explore new cities and visit historic sites around the country.”

In May 2016, he returned to Tiffany to buy the ring. The next month, when the Van Metres had traveled to Sonoma County, Calif., for one of Mr. Busch’s races, he asked her father for permission to marry.

On Aug. 18, Mr. Busch worked with the Van Metre family’s housekeeper to transform their Middleburg barn into an intimate dining room filled with flickering candles and scattered rose petals. He asked to have her favorite meal of beef stroganoff prepared, and made sure her beloved horses were in the barn. “I was choked up when I got down on one knee and proposed,” he said.

On Jan. 7, the couple were married at sunset just steps from St. Jean Bay at the Eden Rock hotel in St. Barts before 30 close friends and relatives. The short nondenominational ceremony with Roman Catholic references was led by Ms. Van Metre’s great-uncle, the Rev. Albert G. Cohen, a United Church of Christ minister.


Ms. Van Metre, far right, and her bridesmaids. CreditRyan Stone for The New York Times

While reciting their personal vows, the teary-eyed bride told the groom: “When I met you I had no idea how my life would change.” In turn, Mr. Busch said: “Your heartbeat is the rhythm of your beautiful soul. Let me be your companion and friend for life.”

His friends continue to see a welcome change in the hard-driving Mr. Busch since he fell in love with Ms. Van Metre.

“Kurt has a twinkle in his eye when Ashley is around,” Jason Allen, a groomsman, said later. She is easygoing and genuine, and he loves that. “We are all happy to see him laughing again.”

On This Day

When Jan. 7, 2017

Where Eden Rock hotel in St. Barts.

Highlights The couple’s reception occurred a week after the wedding at the Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla. After cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, the 265 guests, serenaded by a pair of violinists, entered the stunning Venetian Ballroom through a romantic fantasy garden flanked with dozens of glowing candles. Guests feasted on stone crab claws, South African lobster tail, herb-roasted filet mignon and kataifi-belted halibut.

The Big Reveal After the newlyweds toasted their guests with shots of moonshine (produced by a relative), the curtain was raised for the surprise entertainment Mr. Busch booked for his bride: Steven Tyler with the Loving Mary Band, who entertained the rousing crowd beginning with “Dream On.”

Sweet Endings The after-party in the hotel’s Mediterranean Ballroom featured a wall of fresh pink and purple doughnuts and made-to-order beignets, as well as a six-foot tall wedding cake in three flavors: vanilla butter cake with traditional dulce de leche, extra thick dark chocolate buttermilk cake with chocolate truffle filling and carrot cake with cream cheese mousse filling. The white chocolate icing was adorned was handmade sugar flowers from Thailand.

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