Call me old fashioned, but I like things to go well. I especially like it when things are going well right before I am about to go out on track. Those few seconds before I am about to hit the track, I’m not looking for high drama, my blood pressure to be rising, or any complications. I want things to be chill. Because “easy” is how I prefer things to go, I create systems to help things go smoothly. Color-coding my racing harnesses is just one of these systems. Using simple pieces of colored electrical tape, I organize my different latch plates to plug directly into the cam-lock buckle system of my racing harnesses so I can connect it quickly and correctly.

Because these newly refreshed belts were going into an HPDE/autocross/rallycross daily driver vehicle, without a dedicated racing seat, we use an Autopower seven-point harness, which replaces the single sub-belt with a three-point sub-belt that can provide proper placement of the sub-belt latch in a OEM seat.

I come from an endurance racing background where pit stops and driver swaps are common. In an attempt to decrease the time it takes for our team to put a driver in a car and strap them in, we started color-coding our racing harnesses. This made it easy for a crew member to lean into a car and quickly click in multiple belts. The color codes let him or her know that they were clicking in the correct belt into the correct receptacle. We chose bright colors of tape, which helped for nighttime pits stops during NASA’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

NASA’s Club Codes and Regulations section 15.5 Driver Restraint System subsection 10 (A) states, “SFI Specification 16.1 or 16.5 and shall bear a dated label of no more than two (2) years old or show an expiration date (starting on belts produced in in 2017). At least one date label is required on belt sets.” These Autopower belts have the exact tag required pass NASA technical inspection, SFI 16.1 and an expiration date of December 2023.

I spend a fair amount of time tinkering with my driver restraints because racing harnesses have to be refreshed every two years. This does not mean you need to spend the money to replace the entire system bi-annually. Only the webbing needs to be replaced. I send my harnesses to Autopower and they refresh the webbing, inspect the components and then apply a new SFI tag on the updated webbing, a requirement to pass the annual NASA technical inspection. When I reinstall my belts, I take the time to color-code them so the cam-lock buckle mechanism matches each latch plate from the different belts: lap, sub-belt, left shoulder, right shoulder.

One disadvantage to a cam-lock style harness, versus a latch-and-link style harness, is any of the latch plates from the different belts — lap, sub, left shoulder, right shoulder — can connect with the buckle, even in the incorrect position. You have to be vigilant that you are connecting them correctly and right side up.

I use this color-coding system for the harnesses on all of my different racecars, not just the endurance racing cars where quick pit stops matter. I do this because the color coding system helps me put my harnesses on correctly the first time. I can tell if I have a twisted shoulder harness or if I have the left shoulder harness accidentally across my right shoulder just by glancing at the colored tape on the belts. I do this even for an HPDE car, autocross or rallycross car because you climb in and out of these types of cars over and over again at events, where in a road racing car you may only strap in three times during an entire day. When you are rushing to get strapped in, like at an autocross, that is when you can easily connect a belt the wrong way.

Here you can see how easy it is to incorrectly connect a harness. The right shoulder harness — at left in the photo — is correctly connected and can be tightened by pulling down on the black strap. The left shoulder harness — at right in the photo — is twisted and it cannot be tightened because the adjustment strap is under the belt and inaccessible. The latch plate itself does not care if the left shoulder harness is twisted. It connected the buckle regardless.

Not only does this color-coding system make things more convenient, but it also makes things safer. Having a buckle flipped around makes it more difficult — or impossible —to disconnect the harness in an emergency situation where people tend to panic. Having a belt twisted will disable your ability to tighten it if the belt is loose. Using the simple colored-tape method to organize your belts will ensure you don’t mistakenly connect things the wrong way.

Everything we need to solve this belt problem is going to set us back around $5 in electrical tape and label material. To complete this project, I purchased this various color tape pack from Ace Hardware and got out my trusty Brother P-Touch label maker.

One of the issues with a racing harness is, by design, it is set up to disconnect all the belts with one action — twisting the cam-lock. That is good in a fire, however, if you connect one of five harnesses incorrectly, to disconnect it to get the opportunity to re-connect it, you will disconnect all of the belts simultaneously. These are the sort of frustrating situations I don’t want while I’m sitting on grid getting ready to head out on track. I want to be thinking about what I am going to do on track, not think about why my harnesses are discombobulated. Color-coding the belts avoids these situations. I can actually be faster on track if my concentration is on driving and not on how frustrated I am with my seatbelts.

When you look at your harness latch system you want to see the part that says Autopower, because that is the side of the latch that allows you rotate it and release all of the latch plates simultaneously. If you connect your cam-lock buckle when it is upside down you can find yourself in an emergency situation where you can’t access the quick release system — this is a bad thing. To avoid this mistake we use a simple label that says, “WRONG!” If you see “WRONG!” when you are connecting your harnesses, then you are making a mistake.

In addition to color-coding the belts, I also like to place a label on the back of the latch system that prominently indicates, “WRONG!” just so I know I am looking at the back of the cam-lock. This is important because any one of the five harnesses can go into any one of the five receptacles on the cam-lock. You can easily connect the harnesses incorrectly. Buckling a seatbelt isn’t rocket science, but slap on a helmet, put on some gloves, be in a hurry and I assure you, things will get clicked-in the wrong way. Remember, I like things to go the right way.

Using some red electrical tape and scissors we color coded one receptacle in the buckle red and the right shoulder harness latch plate red. This does two things: It tell us where to place this particular harness and it tells us if the harness is connected in the correct direction. If we don’t see red matching red, then the shoulder harness is twisted.

Even the choices I use for the colors as I code the seatbelts come with some reasoning. For me I use red for my right shoulder belt based on alliteration. As I pull my shoulder belt over my right shoulder, I see the red piece of tape and think, “Red is right.” Alternatively, that means my left shoulder would be the opposite, so I choose blue as the left shoulder belt color. For my left lap belt I use green, because that belt is usually hanging out of the open driver door anyway, so for me I think of it as out of the car laying on the green grass. I use the color white for my sub-belt because it is the brightest color and easy to see in the dark part of the seat. My right lap belt isn’t color coded because it is permanently attached to the cam-lock buckle assembly. I request Autopower connect the latch system to that specific belt because the right lap belt will always be in the middle of the car — and not able to be smashed by a door if it was attached to the left lap position. None of these color decisions are standardized in the racing community. They just work for my particular crazy racing mind. However, after some discussion, my team understands the “why” on the coding and it works for them, too. Everybody wants to know “the why.”

Here you can see one of the harnesses is twisted — the blue one — because the colored tape is not visible when the harnesses is buckled. This is a quick way to see if your harnesses are connected correctly.

I intentionally only color-code one side of the harnesses latch plate so any lack of color in the pattern will indicate a belt is twisted. I also use a small piece of yellow tape to indicate the center position of the cam-lock. This is crucial because if the cam-lock is twisted to the open position, you can put your latch plates in, but they won’t stay in place. The cam-lock needs to be in the lock position when latch plates are inserted. I want to be able to look down and quickly know my cam-lock is in the locked position before I start clicking in belts. The yellow tape resolves this issue.

When all the colors match, you are good to go. Here you can see each latch plate is inserted into the buckle correctly, the cam-lock is facing the correct direction and the yellow line indicates the cam-lock is in the locked position. The one buckle that isn’t color coded is permanently attached to the cam-lock latch on the right lap belt. All is good. Time to go fast.

This entire project will cost you about $5 in supplies and take about 10 minutes of cutting pieces of tape and sticking them on your racing belts. Regardless of the simplicity or frugalness of the project, you will benefit greatly from the organization of having your belts color coded. It will make you more efficient and ultimately safer in you racecar. Racing belts have two jobs. The first is to keep you safely inside your seat. The second is to let you out of your seat quickly in an emergency. Use this color code system to help those belts do both of those jobs.

Image courtesy of Rob Krider

Join the Discussion