How to Choose a Racing Harness
Seat belts and racing harnesses are among the top five most important safety items you can buy for your race car. With all the options out there between size, length, closure type, and adjustability, it can be hard to decide on a specific set. This article will give you helpful tips to look for in each belt, and help you narrow down your choices.
First off, let's look at size. The majority of belts come in a 3" width. They are common in bigger classes of cars such as sport compacts, hobby stocks, modifieds, and sprint cars. There are also a few belts that are 2" wide. These are common for smaller cars such as cage carts, quarter midgets, and junior sprints. You want to check your local track or series rules to see if they require a specific size.
From there, it comes down to what you race. The only exception to this is that some 3" harnesses have an option for 2" upper shoulder belts. These are referred to as ‘Hans’ type belts. When wearing a Hans Device, these thinner belts fit the Hans shoulders better.
Next, let's talk length. Some belts are made longer if you don't have an attachment point right behind your seat. In cars such as quarter midgets, the belts need to be longer to reach the bar they are attaching to. Harnesses can be bolt-in, wrap-around, or both. Bolt-in harnesses have a triangular bracket at the end of the belt that bolts through a spud on your frame. Usually, these brackets are sewn in place and are not removable. Wrap-around harnesses are just that; the belt wraps around a frame gusset and passes through a buckle multiple times to hold itself in place. A good option for this type of harness is Speedway's Racing Harness/Shoulder Pad/Sternum Protector Kit.
The last style of belt is best described as a combination of both. Some, if not most, wrap-around belts come with triangular bolt-in brackets. In this case, you can wrap the belt through the bracket, and then lock the belt in place by passing it through the buckle. With the bracket, you basically turn the wrap-around belt into a bolt-in.
The next option on harnesses is the latch type, such as the Simpson Six Way Cam-Lock Harness. There are basically two different kinds of latches; latch-and-link and cam-lock. The latch-and-link belts are the most popular and most common. They basically operate as a hook and loop. The shoulder belts and sub belt slide onto the loop, and the hook latches onto the loop, holding it all together. The cam-lock latch operates as a hub. The shoulder belts, sub belt, and other lap belt push into the cam latch, clicking into place like a street car seat belt.
To release, you simply push on a lever which activates a cam-release inside the latch, releasing all the belts simultaneously. Generally, the cam-lock belts are easy to operate but more expensive. Whereas, the latch-and-link belts are nearly infallible, but don’t release quite as easily.
Lastly, there's the type of adjustability each belt has. The basic types are pull-up, pull-down, and ratcheting. When a belt is a pull-up design, it means that the lap belts tighten by pulling the belt's "tail" upward toward the latch. These belts are easier for the driver to tighten himself. In comparison, a pull-down design means the belt tightens by pulling the belt's "tail" downward away from the latch. These are easier to have someone outside the vehicle tighten for the driver. Lastly, ratcheting seat belts have a mechanism on the left side lap belt that, once latched together, the ratchet can be tightened a lot tighter than simply pulling on the "tail".
They use a standard 1/4" ratchet and still utilize the standard latch-and-link style latch. Ratcheting belts, such as this Hooker Harness are most common in sprint cars and other race cars with enough clearance around the left side of the seat to mount and access the ratcheting mechanism. These require a bolt-in spud or extra bracket.
As you can see, there's a multitude of options out there for harnesses. Check your rule book, look at the racing you will be doing, and see what neck restraint you are using. Measure for belt length, if they don't attach right behind the seat, and think about your needs when it comes to the latch and adjustability. Remember, safety components are the most important thing in your race car, besides you. Your safety comes first!