Kurt and Ashley Busch’s Wellington barn is filled with the trappings of her polo career: trophies in silver, crystal, and bronze; tables crowded with engraved cups; and armoires packed with medals, plaques, and salvers.
For a guy who’s been racing most of his life, Kurt has a deep trophy collection of his own—all housed at his team headquarters in Mooresville, North Carolina. “It’s so similar to my setup,” Kurt says of the components that make up a professional polo barn. “You’ve got the trailers, the trucks, the equipment, the support staff and crew. At the end of the day, you’re just talking about a different type of ride.”
One might think Kurt, a 17-year veteran of the NASCAR circuit, would be out of his element in a place like this. Instead, he seems fully at home in his wife’s world. “She’s the star,” Kurt says, smiling. “At the barn or the track.”
But in marriage both parties need time to shine, and Kurt and Ashley are dedicated to maximizing their relationship while pursuing their elite athletic careers as individuals. “We’ve made being together a priority without letting our passions suffer,” says Ashley.
It helps that the bulk of polo’s high season falls during NASCAR’s downtime. This year, Ashley took the pitch throughout January and February, with Kurt cheering from the stands. The roles reversed as Kurt’s season kicked off at the 2018 Daytona 500, with Ashley on hand in the pit. As matches and races overlap during March and April, the couple does their best to support one another—whether it’s in person or from afar. When May rolls around, they move from Wellington to North Carolina for the duration of the NASCAR season.
It’s a schedule some might call hectic. Kurt sees it differently. “It’s fun and easy,” he says. “It comes from the love and respect that we have for each other.” Still, he acknowledges their jobs pose a unique challenge. “We both know what it takes to be in this top echelon,” Kurt says. “That’s something that drives us from within and really connects us.”
Since his NASCAR debut in 2000, Kurt has racked up 22 pole positions, 258 top 10 finishes, and 29 career Cup wins, including the 2017 Daytona 500 and the 2004 Nextel Cup Series championship. He is one of only 29 drivers to qualify as a “Triple Threat,” winning races in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions: the Cup Series, the Xfinity Series, and the Camping World Truck Series.
There have been tough times, too. Kurt has made headlines for his quick temper on and off the track. Since falling in love with Ashley, however, Kurt says he’s a changed man. “She’s been with me through a lot,” he confesses. “She’s my calming force. She’s taught me so much about inner beliefs and states of positive thinking, and that’s been a great change in my life.”
Ashley’s even-keeled demeanor may be a steadying presence for Kurt, but she is known as a fierce competitor on the polo field. “Something changes when I put my helmet on,” she says. “I become more aggressive. That streak of wanting to win comes out.”
Ashley competes nationwide with Altair Polo, her signature team named for her family’s Virginia farm. She’s on her way to becoming the female face of the sport as a brand ambassador for the United States Polo Association. She welcomes comparisons between her USPA work and 6-goaler Nacho Figueras’ Ralph Lauren campaigns. “Nacho has done a great job of putting polo on the map,” Ashley says. “My goal is to encourage women to try polo despite it being a typically male-dominated sport. You can’t let that hold you back. You have to get out there and pursue whatever you’re passionate about.”
But passion—or even a relationship—wasn’t what Ashley had in mind when she first met Kurt. Her older sister, Charis Burrett, had partnered with Kurt on a NASCAR-inspired apparel line and often attended races. On a weekend in 2014 when Ashley admittedly had “nothing better to do,” she joined her sister at the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 in Martinsville, Virginia. Afterward, Burrett introduced the pair, who got to know each other back at Kurt’s home over barbecue and a movie.
“It felt like we had known each other for our entire lives,” Ashley recalls. “It sounds cheesy, but it truly was love at first sight.” After a whirlwind romance of 10 months, Kurt proposed. “I found the love of my life, and she said yes,” Kurt tweeted afterward.
Kurt and Ashley were married at Eden Rock in St. Barth’s in January 2017, a destination wedding attended by 40 friends and family members. A week after returning stateside, Ashley’s parents hosted a lavish reception at The Breakers, complete with a surprise performance by Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler. “The curtain dropped, and there he was playing ‘Dream On’ on his white piano,” Kurt says of the big reveal he arranged with the help of his racing sponsor, Monster Energy.
Nixing the traditional honeymoon, Kurt and Ashley opted for a cozy staycation instead. “When you travel as much as we do, staying home feels like a honeymoon because that’s the escape from the normal,” she says.
With high-energy careers like theirs, however, the staycation couldn’t last forever. But getting back to work paid off, with Kurt’s Daytona 500 win in February 2017, and Ashley’s April 2017 victory in the Grand Champions Cup at Santa Rita Polo Farm. “That was one of the best gifts, aside from getting married, that we could’ve asked for to start off the year,” Ashley says.
Winning isn’t the only thrill this power couple shares. Ashley hasn’t driven Kurt’s race car, but she has ridden shotgun with him for a few 175-mile-per-hour laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “It was insane, particularly in the turns,” she recalls. “If I had stuck my hand out the window, I could’ve filed my nails on the wall, that’s how close
While Kurt says his wife was “a champion” during that ride along, he’s less positive about her racing skills after giving her a go-karting lesson while they were dating. “Let’s just say she’s never going to be a champion racer,” he says. Ashley agrees: “He’s much better at riding than I am at go-karting, and neither one is very good.”
When Ashley put Kurt on the calmest pony in her string for their first outing on horseback, they lost track of time and rode for two hours. “You can imagine how sore he was,” Ashley says. Despite being an avid sports enthusiast, Kurt is a polo novice. “I don’t have any riding skills yet,” he admits. “But I’m working on it.”
Kurt’s next set of lessons can wait until race season comes to a close in November. “During those months, I like him to stick to the car,” Ashley says. “He’s totally fearless. I don’t want to be blamed for him falling off a horse and [ending] his season. I can just see it now: ‘Kurt Busch falls off wife’s horse, breaks leg and can’t drive.’”
As he enters a second year with the Stewart-Haas Racing team, being sidelined with an injury is something Kurt wants to avoid at all costs. “This year has the ability to be one of the best in my career,” he says. “We’re poised to move through the season with real opportunities to win.”
At 39, Kurt is looking beyond racing, too, recently inking a deal with management agency Livewire Entertainment and Hollywood agent ICM Partners to explore television projects. “I’m trying to move forward and learn new things,” he says. “You have to be smart in today’s world because things change quickly. I like to have options, and that is an option for me.”
Ashley, 27, is seeking new ventures, too, and will launch a swimwear line this year. “I’ve always been interested in fashion design and clothing and I always wanted to create my own brand,” Ashley explains. “I don’t want to say polo will be on the back burner for me. But swimwear and design are a big focus of mine for the future.”
Back at the Wellington barn, Kurt feeds a bay pony named Bombona a carrot. As Bombona begins to chew, Kurt yanks his hand away. “Almost got my thumb in there,” he says nervously. Ashley rolls her eyes. “Now you see why we keep him away from the horses during racing season. That’s all we need,” she says of a potential hand injury that could sideline one of NASCAR’s biggest stars.
Kurt knows there are risks associated with everything—from romance to racing to real life. “Everybody’s always dangling that carrot,” he says, laughing. “When you see what you want, you’ve got to go for it.”