More Than A Helmet: Casey’s Design to Honor WWII Veteran Grandfather
Monday, March 5, 2018

A helmet design can say a lot about a driver.

For Britt Casey, Jr. who drives the No. 77 Compass Racing Audi RS3 LMS in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, there’s even more to it than that. For 2018, his new helmet design tells a story that dates back over 70 years and honors an unparalleled legacy left by a beloved family member.

Thomas Casey, Jr., Britt’s grandfather, enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps, later known as the United States Army Air Force, at the age of 17 to serve his country during World War II as a B-24 tail gunner.

At 20 years old – the same age his grandson will be in two weeks – Sergeant Casey’s plane was shot down over Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia. All crewmen were believed to be killed, but in fact survived and were smuggled across the border to safety in Allied territory.

Casey continued to serve 10 more missions, bringing his total number to 68 – a number described as statistically impossible given the low survival rate of Air Corps missions – and later received the Purple Heart, the Air Medal with three clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his acts of heroism.

Sgt. Casey went on to graduate from Loyola University Chicago and John Marshall Law School, before beginning his career and eventually presiding as a Circuit Court Judge for the city of Chicago. He passed away in 1991 at the age of 66.

While the younger Casey never met his paternal grandfather, he has found a special way to honor his memory. Working with designer Tyler Cenarrusa, Casey arranged for a picture of a tail gunner facing out of a turret on the back of his helmet, with his grandfather’s motto “Every day is a gift” printed underneath.

“The font is my grandpa’s real handwriting based on letters that he wrote,” Casey described. “We rendered it into the text that we wanted on the back. That was his quote. He said, ‘Every day is a gift’ and woke up every morning and thanked God for yet another day. My mentality in life is the same way. I try to live that way as much as possible.”

Casey’s first time wearing the helmet will come later this month at the Continental Tire Challenge’s second race of the season, the Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 at Sebring International Raceway. The circumstance is fitting given that many B-24 pilots during WWII trained at Hendricks Army Field, which was converted into the Sebring racetrack after its closure.

Casey will be competing in the new-for-2018 TCR class, a ride he shares with co-driver Tom Long as part of a deal that came together very last minute and maybe with a little help from above.

“I was sitting at Christmas dinner without any plans for Daytona and just some very weird occurrences happened as if there was someone helping me out from up there,” Casey said. “I like to kind of think it was him.”

And what a blessing it was. With Long, Casey piloted the No. 77 at season-opening BMW Endurance Challenge Daytona in January to the first ever TCR class victory and his first ever series win in the four-hour race. With his new helmet, Casey hopes the good fortune will continue, especially as he shares much more with his grandfather than just a last name.

“He was a really stern guy, but he was competitive,” Casey said. “He was into racing. He took my dad to Michigan International Speedway to watch NASCAR when he was a kid. This is just my way to kind of have something to remember him by.”

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