What's next for Kurt Busch and Patricia Driscoll

When Driscoll accused Busch of domestic violence, it made news. When Busch accused her of being an assassin, it went viral. Jeff Gross/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway

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A CHARITY DINNER was about to begin at Walter Reed Medical Center, NASCAR drivers meeting troops. It was September 2010. He sat at a table, one of many celebrity racers on hand. He was tall and dark and thin, with rosy cheeks. She approached him from behind, just his type: long blond hair, petite, killer blue eyes. Though they had never met, she had a bone to pick with him. She was president of the Armed Forces Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans and the host of that night's dinner, and she thought he had stood up some of the troops -- her troops, as she always called them. And so Patricia Driscoll approached Kurt Busch.

Both were well-versed in confrontation: Busch was on the verge of splitting with his second major ride in five years, not because his dazzling racing ability had diminished but because of his anger and rage. He was 32. His marriage was virtually over. He was depressed and drinking too much. But one thing he wouldn't do, he insisted to Driscoll, is stiff soldiers he'd agreed to meet. "No -- I volunteered to meet a group of troops," he said.

Oops. Wrong Busch. Driscoll had mistaken Kurt for his younger brother Kyle, a fellow driver who she thought had stood them up. Now Driscoll felt like a fool. She joined him for dinner anyway, and somehow they clicked. She would later call it love at first sight. Busch would say it was "one of those unique moments in life where a relationship sparked."

"What do you do for a living?" he asked.

Driscoll had a simple answer and a complicated answer. She began with the simple one: She ran the AFF. And then the complicated one: She owned a defense company and worked for the government in "different capacities." Busch asked what those capacities entailed, and, as he would later recall, Driscoll told him she was a "mercenary." He didn't seem to buy it, so out came her phone, he claims, with pictures of people shot through the head in a Suburban, an unidentifiable bloody mess.

That's exciting, Busch thought.

Family court for the state of Delaware in the matter of Patricia P. Driscoll, petitioner, v. Kurt T. Busch, respondent.
Dec. 16, 2014

PATRICIA DRISCOLL ENTERS the courthouse in a drab tan overcoat, her face pointed down and covered by large black sunglasses. This is not a criminal hearing. Driscoll has requested a restraining order, alleging domestic violence; Busch denies the allegation and is contesting the order. If the judge rules against him, a suspension from NASCAR will likely result. The legal bar for a restraining order is low, and the process is normally expedient, but scheduling conflicts, and some bizarre turns in testimony, will cause the case to be drawn out over three months. And as it plays out, one of racing's glamour couples -- already part of the litany of athletes and their partners involved with allegations of domestic violence -- will become an American spectacle, complete with fast cars, a viral video, a Playmate and tales of sex, violence and covert government operations.

Taking the stand, Driscoll appears pale and gaunt. Busch looks on, in a black suit and silver tie, next to his defense lawyer. (Both would decline comment for this story.) Face wet, jaw trembling, Driscoll takes the court back to the night of Sept. 26, 2014. She was worried about Busch. He wasn't himself. She says he was texting all kinds of weird things, hinting that he wanted to take his life. They had ended their four-year relationship a few days earlier, but Driscoll felt an imperative to see him. So she and her 9-year-old son drove the hour and 40 minutes from their home in Ellicott City, Maryland, to Dover, Delaware, where he was preparing for a race. She punched in the security code to his motor home and entered, waking him up. They argued about their relationship. She tells the court that he looked ready to explode, a stare commonly referred to by NASCAR reporters as Kurt Busch Crazy Eyes. They stood opposite each other in the passage, and Busch "grabbed me by my throat with one hand and my face with the other, and he smashed my head into the wall three times."

"How did it feel?" asks Carolyn McNeice, Driscoll's attorney.

"It scared me because he just snapped," Driscoll says, crying so hard as to be inaudible. "I couldn't breathe."

"Ms. Driscoll, do you need a recess?" asks family court commissioner David Jones.


ANGER HAS DEFINED Busch since he entered NASCAR in 2000. His dad, a racer himself, first put Kurt in a competitive go-kart at age 7. Both Kurt and Kyle, seven years younger, were raised to win at all costs, creating in Kurt a sense that, as a former team member says, "everyone has a motive against him." And at times -- most noticeably in 2007 after the brothers crashed into each other during a race in Charlotte and didn't speak for months -- the cost was their own relationship. Busch's dirty racing tactics and infamous propensities for dog-cussing his crew during races and threatening to fight other racers and journalists have pissed off almost everyone at the track. After a 2003 fistfight with rival Jimmy Spencer landed Busch in the hospital with a broken nose and messed-up teeth, Roush Racing management set up an intervention of sorts with Jody Powell, who was President Jimmy Carter's press secretary. The goal was to teach Busch to shed his victim complex and learn to accept responsibility. Powell told stories of how even presidents must restrain themselves and then said, "Kurt, based on this, can I help you?"

Busch replied, according to a participant of the meeting, "You can go after Jimmy Spencer because this whole thing is his fault."

As much as Busch has tried to portray the image of an iconic NASCAR bad boy, he has always seemed miscast. He would flinch at boos during races rather than revel in them. His anger led to hundreds of hours spent with therapists, and it was one of the main reasons Roush fired him in 2005, a year after he won the Cup Series Championship, and why Team Penske parted ways with him in 2011, sending him to the now-defunct Phoenix Racing.

His admitted drinking problems seemed to ignite his anger. Once, at a Cubs game, Busch was drunk and took a swing at his assistant, Kristy Cloutier, as they tried to enter a taxi; other than Cloutier's refusal to press charges, little else is known about the incident. He would trash rental cars and even his own motor home out of frustration. "He never seemed to control his emotions to the point where he could reap the benefits of his talent," Spencer says. Which is why, as Busch finished dinner at Walter Reed in 2010, he was especially pleased to have met someone who just might be able to help him do both.

SHE'S FEARLESS. That's what everyone says about Driscoll. She has an ambition that has always transcended her 5-foot stature, dating to her days growing up in El Paso, Texas. She wasn't just a swimmer and track star at Irvin High. She was also a wrestler and kicker on the football team, unafraid to challenge the boys. She lasted one football season, but according to her coach, Tony Shaw, "she was the first girl in the area to [play football]. It was kinda unique."

She kicked only one season because Driscoll left El Paso in 1996, before her senior year, moving with her boyfriend at the time, Gilbert Chiquito, to Galveston. After high school, Driscoll and Chiquito got married and left Texas for New Jersey, then Maryland. By 1999, they were divorced. She accused him of domestic violence; he was arrested but never charged. Needing a fresh start, Driscoll decided to join the DC scene. She began spending a few nights a week at the Capitol Hill Club, a bastion of the Republican Party where congressmen, generals and government officials drank. Driscoll was a college dropout, but competing for face time against multiple-degree holders did not bother her. "She's a sight to be seen," says an ex-employee of Driscoll's. "She's never intimidated." Rather than try to finagle her way into elite circles, Driscoll would hold court at the club, waiting for people to join her, sitting straight in an armchair and crossing her legs to make herself seem larger. Congressmen -- especially the late Bill Young of Florida, to whom Driscoll became so close that she referred to him and his wife, Bev, as her parents and their son Billy Jr. as her brother -- would call her Kicker, from her high school days. Every conversation was a competition. You're Yale undergrad, Georgetown Law? Well, she claimed to have been a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and a beauty queen. "She escaped into the political world," says a former friend, "where your reality is the one you create for yourself."

While learning her way around DC, Driscoll met her second husband, Geoff Hermanstorfer, who worked in special ops. After 9/11, with money to be made in the homeland security industry, she acted on a lifelong fascination with covert operations and launched her own company, Frontline Defense Systems. Using connections forged at the club, she secured classified government contracts for equipment like military earpieces and traveled to Afghanistan and the Mexico border to oversee installation of the sensors she sold. She even testified before Congress in a hearing about small business in the defense industry. She and Hermanstorfer became fixtures in the DC military subculture, culminating in an invite to the White House for a holiday party.

Driscoll was so impressive that in 2001, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California asked her to join the board of the struggling Armed Forces Foundation -- just two years later she became its president. Working long hours while pregnant, Driscoll turned the AFF from an all-volunteer group reliant on $100,000 per year in donations and focused mostly on taking wounded vets fishing, to a staffed entity with $13 million in revenue that is engaged in a broad array of programs, including a partnership with NASCAR. Driscoll "pretty much single-handedly built" the AFF, says Kip Hunter, a former business partner.

Based in a DC row house owned by Driscoll, the foundation could be, in the words of a former employee, "a weird place to work." Driscoll would host Catholic schoolgirl parties at the office and ask job applicants, "What three people would you want to party with in a hot tub and why?" Still, Driscoll used her bold business practices and big personality to attract partners for the foundation. In 2008, for instance, she had a business dinner in Southern California with Charis and Luke Burrett. Driscoll wanted to line up AFF with a clothing company, and Charis, best known as a former Playmate, sold T-shirts at NASCAR races. Driscoll would later dispute the Burretts' account of the dinner in a still-pending defamation suit against them, but according to Charis' testimony in the Busch case, early in the conversation, Driscoll said, "I'm a hit woman for the government."

"No way," Charis said. Driscoll pulled up a picture of a man in an SUV with "his whole face blown off," Charis says now.

"These are my hits," Driscoll allegedly said.

The Burretts recall that Driscoll said she was often deployed on missions to Mexico. Security details would follow her. At one point in the conversation, according to the Burretts, Driscoll said, "Look at this," and lifted her shirt to reveal a scar over her stomach. One night in Mexico, she allegedly said, a target found out that she was an agent and "gutted me right at this nightclub." Three years later, Driscoll continued, she returned to the same club, poisoned the guy's drink and watched him die on the dance floor.

All of this and dinner hadn't even arrived yet.

Driscoll and the Burretts, though, would become friends -- not because she claimed to be a killer but because she was really cool, a blast. She was a phenomenal cook and a great dancer. The Burretts became even closer to Driscoll when she and Hermanstorfer separated in 2010 and later divorced in 2011 -- she accused him of domestic violence, though he was never arrested or charged. The couple and Driscoll bonded when they started to spend weekends together on the NASCAR circuit. Driscoll grew to love the life so much that she began to spend less time around the AFF office, less time hustling for government contracts, less time managing the foundation.

She had met a driver.

"I like to shoot as much as I like to dance." Driscoll, in her reality-show pitch video

Cross-examination of Patricia Driscoll by Mr. Rusty Hardin
Dec. 16, 2014

AS THE HEARINGS play out, Brian France, NASCAR's chairman, tells reporters that he will wait to see if criminal charges will be filed before taking action against Busch. But the driver's lawyer, Rusty Hardin, knows that in the post-Ray Rice world, attention to domestic violence is high. And so Hardin, famous for representing the likes of Adrian Peterson and Roger Clemens, cross-examines Driscoll for most of the day. He tries to poke holes in her story by painting her as a jilted lover, and he seems to revel in the irritation he provokes by botching several names, including her son's. Eight times Commissioner Jones has to warn Driscoll to either answer the question or not interrupt anyone, including Jones himself.

Near the end of the day, Hardin takes the proceedings in a strange direction. "Did you make a video called Pocket Commando?" he asks.

"What?" Driscoll says.

"Did you make a video ..."

"I never made a video. Somebody had proposed a reality show to me called Pocket Commando."

Hardin presents a DVD into evidence, mentioning that it's on YouTube.

"You put it on YouTube?" Driscoll says, tensions rising.

"Hang on a second," Commissioner Jones says, trying to restore order.

"It is totally inconsistent and unbelievable that this woman would be afraid, under the circumstances, of any kind of physical encounter" with Busch, Hardin says. This despite ample research showing that being tough does not keep someone from being abused or assaulted.

Jones takes a recess to watch the video. It opens with a shot of Driscoll in the desert, carrying a sensor. It quickly cuts to a shot of her in fatigues, then of her firing a rifle, then of her teaching her young son how to shoot a toy gun. "I'm not a regular mom," she says. "I don't drive a minivan." The video was produced in 2009 and was a five-and-a-half-minute pitch for a reality show about her: a gun-loving, hard-partying, flag-waving, White House-visiting single mom from West Texas who splits her time between DC and NASCAR. Driscoll came up with the title of Pocket Commando herself. The video bears all the hallmarks of clichéd reality TV. When Driscoll is at the shooting range -- "I like to shoot as much as I like to dance and have sex," she says -- the camera pans to her chest. In one frame, she's dialing up a governor. In another, she's smiling next to President George W. Bush at the White House. She's shown partying on the Hill and on the infield. A handful of co-workers dog-pile on top of her in bed. "I love my life!" Driscoll says. Draped in camouflage, she buries sensors with Homeland Security officials near the border. "If you cross her," says one of her employees, "she'll grab you by the nuts and twist them. Tear them right off."

A month later, Busch testifies that he believed Driscoll made a living killing people with "knives, pistols or poison." Busch also states that the reason he would not have choked her was that she was a "badass" who could "take me down at any moment."

DRISCOLL FIRST TOOK over Busch's marketing and increasingly began to manage his life. She softened him by staging events with troops and turning him into a celebrity for her foundation. For one race, she even orchestrated putting him in a Talladega Nights replica car, casting him as a Ricky Bobby underdog. They produced a documentary about him called Outlaw, his new nickname, a film that many on Pit Road found unintentionally hilarious. Rather than owning the image as an outlaw, Busch spent most of the film blaming others. "Kurt didn't need more enemies," says James Finch, his former boss at Phoenix Racing. "He'd make them himself for no reason."

Someone who knows the couple well says that Busch, like many drivers, had spent his life "led around and told what to do by handlers. Patricia filled that role, and he dutifully followed her lead." She managed his schedule. She had passwords to all his devices. She spoke on his behalf to reporters and tweeted from his account. If team members asked Busch questions as innocuous as where to park the golf cart or what groceries to buy, he'd always say, "Check with Patricia." She'd monitor his home security system to see when he came and went; Busch would later say she made him feel under surveillance.

And yet, they were family. "All but married," Driscoll would say. They would talk about their dreams, of leaving behind all the racing BS and opening a bar in Costa Rica. People wondered, What kind of person would fall for someone who claims to be an assassin -- and what kind of person claims to be an assassin? It didn't matter. They were two adrenaline junkies, and they seemed to understand each other on a level only they could appreciate -- even after he'd have a bad race and would disappear for days and "drink himself to death," Driscoll would later say; even when he was on antidepressants and became frustrated that the pills that improved his moods also hampered his driving. And even on one night during the summer of 2012. Driscoll would later testify that he assaulted her at his home in North Carolina -- she never elaborated, and Busch denied it -- and that he ran out of the house, hiding somewhere. "I am afraid that the cops are sitting there waiting for me," he allegedly texted her. The cops were never called.

She still wanted to get married, and as their relationship went on, she grew accustomed to her lifestyle and the attention that came with it, according to Billy Young Jr., a close friend. On the red carpet, she would pose in front of Busch, hands on her hips. She spoke to a radio station about her sex life, as if a reality star. In her free time, she began to cowrite a treatment called Enigma, about a troubled special agent whose stomach is gashed. In 2014, Busch and Driscoll created an LLC called Dos Toros Properties so that he could guarantee refinancing of her seven-figure home in Maryland. She would want to use Busch's private jet to pick up her son from school. They'd argue about it, then Busch would relent.

It all added up to a life that would eventually draw suspicion. By 2011, the government had all but stopped purchasing her equipment; staffers would enter her office and see old sensors on the floor. Her defense company shrank from three employees to just her. As revenue from Frontline Defense Systems declined, her compensation at AFF rose, from $141,379 in 2010 to $194,010 in 2012. And soon federal authorities would wonder whether Driscoll was in effect using AFF as a bank to pay for various personal expenses, a charge Driscoll denied through the AFF's lawyer. But billing records from late 2012 would become the heart of a whistle­blower complaint a former foundation employee took to the FBI in May 2015. A prominent DC attorney with knowledge of the matter said that it could potentially give rise to charges of embezzlement as well as tax fraud. According to the attorney, records show that for 17 months during a 19-month period in 2012 and 2013, the AFF paid $130,000 in credit card bills for Frontline Defense Systems. Those charges to Driscoll's private company included massage treatments, toy store purchases, personal medical expenses and grocery bills. One day, Carole Wiedorfer, AFF's accountant, emailed Driscoll after noticing she was expensing airfare for her son, sometimes first class. Driscoll replied that the board had approved it. "The IRS does not care what the board says," Wiedorfer wrote. "The tax law is the tax law."

Soon after, the AFF had a new accountant.

Direct examination of Nick Terry by Mr. Rusty Hardin
Jan. 12, 2015

EVERY TURN IN the testimony seemed to contradict a previous one. Waleska Rodriguez, Driscoll's neighbor, had testified that when she visited Driscoll the day after the incident, she saw dark red spots on her neck. The account matched the photographs Driscoll said she had taken of herself and given to the police.

Now Nick Terry, a NASCAR chaplain, is on the stand. Driscoll ran straight to his motor home after fleeing Busch's, and she testified that Terry saw those same red marks and scratches. On the stand, however, Terry describes his version of events: Driscoll "asked my wife and I, did we see any marks on her, or any redness, or any scratches?"

"And what did you see?" Hardin asks.

"We didn't see anything, any redness or anything," Terry says.

ON SEPT. 21, 2014, Busch and Driscoll sat in a rental car. He had finished poorly in yet another race, and he was "really f---ing pissed off," he said later in court. The atmosphere around his team, Stewart-Haas racing, had been tense. A few weeks earlier, teammate Tony Stewart had driven into and killed a 20-year-old driver named Kevin Ward Jr. during an on-track accident at a sprint car race, and Driscoll had sent Stewart an unsolicited four-page PR memo, which would be entered into court in her dispute with Busch. She stated that she had waged "not only physical but mental wars" internationally. She wanted Stewart to go "on the offensive as if your life depends on it" and to dig up dirt on Ward and leak it -- and to do it before Ward's funeral. "A crying mom will be on the front page of every paper and TV show if we wait and do nothing. YOU DON'T WANT THIS."

Stewart-Haas ignored the memo. The Busch-Driscoll act was reaching its limits with NASCAR. And now, in the rental car, according to testimony from both, Busch and Driscoll were reaching their own limits. Still enraged from the race, he ripped off the rearview mirror, cracking the windshield, and smashed it into the steering wheel and gearshift. Driscoll would accuse Busch of also wrapping the seat belt around her neck, which he'd deny. He tossed the mirror in the back seat, and the couple set out for Rhode Island to celebrate. It was their anniversary.

"We'll get 'em next year," Driscoll told him.

"No, you don't understand," Busch said. "I have to leave you if I'm going to fix what I have to fix with the race team."

Busch veered off I-95 toward Boston's Logan Airport. He wanted to break up with her in public because he suspected she would "pull some sort of shenanigans."

"I can't believe you're going to the airport," Driscoll said.

Busch parked at a fork in the road, between the exits for terminals and for rental cars. He hit the button to open the trunk.

"Just get out," Driscoll said.

As Busch lifted the trunk, Driscoll hopped into the driver's seat "like a ninja," he recalled. She hit the gas. The trunk handle broke off in his hand.

"I knew you'd pull a stunt," he texted her. "Bye forever."


Busch was alone in his motor home, according to testimony, eating mac and cheese and watching Seven Years in Tibet. The plot of a man leaving his wife, only to see his grown son years later, got to him. He ended up on the floor crying, when at 7:30 p.m. a text from Driscoll, later entered in court, appeared: "I hope you're OK."

Busch was astonished. How the hell did she always seem to know when he was most vulnerable? "I don't know which way is up, but for some reason you confuse me more and your timing is impeccable," he texted.

"I love you," Driscoll replied.

"I know, but I don't know if I do," Busch texted. "I don't love anything right now."

"I am hurting for you, and I am always here for you," she replied. "The world feels like it's coming down around you, you will get through this."

"It's down on top of me, I shouldn't have replied," Busch texted.

Driscoll wanted to see him. She packed her son in the car and drove to Dover. Busch would later wish he had changed his motor home's security code. She opened the door as he was sleeping.

"Who the f--- is there?" he said, according to testimony.

"Hi, Sweetie," Driscoll said.

"Why the f--- are you here?"

"We're here because we love you and we care about you. Are you OK?"

Driscoll looked around. Her son's toys were still there. Pictures of the two of them as a couple were still out. It was as if she had never left. She turned on the TV for her son while the grown-ups talked. Busch was pale and irritated. And naked.

"What's wrong?" Driscoll asked.

"You're a f---ing psycho," Busch said. He asked her to leave multiple times. She didn't. Driscoll would recall Busch saying, "If I had a gun I would just kill myself. I'm just done with everything. ... And I'm done with you."

"Well," she said, "if we're really done, then get your clothes on and you and I are going to sit down and talk to that little boy and let him know that we're finished."

Not now, Busch insisted. Let's wait until the offseason. Undeterred, Driscoll brought her son to the bedroom. Busch, still naked, got out of bed and walked the boy back to the TV. Driscoll asked if there was another woman. Busch said no, that he was "just a lost, independent soul."

They crossed paths in a tight passage, and --

Judicial examination of Kurt Busch by Commissioner David Jones
Jan. 13, 2015

BUSCH TAKES THE stand for the last time on the final day of testimony. He presents his defense. He did not choke her, he says. He was not even angry and in fact was proud of "how calm I was." When they crossed paths in the tight passage, he says he "cupped her face with his hands, looked her in the eyes and said, 'You have to leave.'"

Commissioner Jones has a question, and of all the ones he could ask, of all the inconsistencies in each party's case, with all that's at stake, he asks about the sideshow. "You testified yesterday that at the beginning of your relationship Ms. Driscoll indicated to you that she was a mercenary. ... Were there things that happened during your relationship that supported your belief?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

Busch says Driscoll frequently visited CIA headquarters -- "The Farm," they called it. That she took 40 or so secret trips to the border. That she once returned from Mexico with bruises on her face from a pistol-whipping and that at the next race Busch told her to stay inside because if people saw her black and blue they'd suspect he'd done it. That one night in El Paso, she left in the middle of the night dressed in camouflage and returned hours later in different clothes, including an evening gown covered with "blood and matter," he tells the court. "It gave me every reason to believe that this was an operative that worked in the underground of the military."

Maybe Jones is simply curious. Maybe he's trying to gauge the gullibility of the defendant. He would ultimately conclude that Driscoll's alleged work was a bunch of "tall tales." People who know Driscoll say she has friends at Delta Force and will often present their war stories as if her own.

"You know you had friends who didn't believe this, right?" Hardin asks Busch.

"Yes, sir."

"And even today you still believe it. Is that correct?"

"Sorry, I'm the last one to the party. Yes, sir."

ON FEB. 16, just days before the Daytona 500, Driscoll wins the restraining order. Commissioner Jones writes that on Sept. 26, it was "more likely than not" that Busch "committed an act or repeated acts of domestic violence" against Driscoll. Jones finds Driscoll's testimony more believable than that of Busch, who he believes had memorized a narrative and struggled to describe it out of sequence. Jones finds Driscoll's witnesses -- including her neighbor, Rodriguez -- more credible than Busch's; most of his had financial ties to him. Ironically, Jones finds the testimony of Nick Terry decisive, despite the fact that he contradicted Driscoll's statements. If Busch had merely cupped her cheeks, Jones argues, why would Driscoll "have asked the Terrys to examine her neck for evidence of injury?"

Within days of the ruling, Driscoll appears on the morning shows as Busch stays mostly silent. She implores NASCAR to park him, and on the Friday before the race, it suspends Busch indefinitely and orders him to see a domestic violence expert. Driscoll soon hires a Washington PR firm. She also launches a new website, promotes her own tweets, purchases Google ads tied to searches for Busch's name and starts emailing reporters. Busch appeals NASCAR's decision twice and loses twice. He appeals Jones' decision, and it is pending. One night Driscoll posts two pictures on Instagram. One is of her pursing her lips toward the camera with two tiny plastic hands cupping her cheeks; the other is of a bottle of wine called Vindicated. She deletes the first image but keeps the second.

The suspension lasts only three weeks. The domestic violence expert clears Busch to race. He returns to Phoenix International Raceway, one of the last drivers to enter the tent for a prerace meeting. He wears a black shirt and jeans. He shakes the hands of some assembled troops. Other drivers wave to him. Jeff Gordon pats his back and squeezes his shoulder. All of this is new and strange, if not disturbing, as if being accused of breaking the law finally gave him a measure of acceptance. During one moment in the race, when his car isn't working properly, he seems on the verge of a tantrum -- "The power steering is nonexistent," he says, always so defeated -- but he snaps out of it and thanks his crew profusely. After the race, he sounds both defiant and humbled. He walks to his trailer alone.

THE 2015 AFF GALA is on a late-April night at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown DC. NASCAR is still a partner with AFF, and its logo illuminates various screens, its presence palpable. In a few days, 108 miles south in Richmond, Busch will win his first race in more than a year. He'll spin out and fishtail in celebration after crossing the finish line, and his crew will douse him with energy drinks and champagne. He's in the midst of his finest season in a decade, his reputation shredded but his talent intact.

At the gala, Driscoll's talent is intact too. She jumps onstage as she is introduced, fearless as always. Before 600 or so people, she speaks as the president of her foundation serving her troops, unaware of possible looming legal issues examining just how her foundation spends its money. With congressmen, generals and disabled vets looking on, Driscoll speaks about those who suffer from PTSD and begins to cry. With a huge American flag draped behind her, she departs the stage to an ovation and disappears from the spotlight.

Reporting by Mike Fish