The Cult Classic of Racing: Shadow Racing Team
Shadow Racing Cars, the cult classic of 1970’s racing. Short lived success in the Canadian-American Challenge Cup (CanAm) and a presence in Formula 1, the Shadow’s had never earned a sustained period of winning. The team won the 1974 CanAm season, but the season was shortened and stripped of most competition. In over 112 races in Formula 1, the team only won one race, the 1977 Australian Grand Prix, and made only six podiums. But why does this team have a following at vintage racing events across the country? A mysterious owner, attractive cars, and a superior name.
They were named Shadows, the original car being a CanAm entry designed by Trevor Harris. The car featured very small 17” wheels in the front for reduced drag and a massive spoiler built into the bodywork of the car that incorporated intercoolers into the structure. The car was fast but proved unreliable. The team found improved success over the years leading to 1974 with improvements in chassis design and driver ability. The team dominated the shortened 1974 season, but was competing against mostly privateers after the works McLaren and Porsche teams had left the series before its fallout at the end of 1974 season.
Korean and World War II veteran as well role player in developing Mount Fuji Racing Circuit, Don Nichols was the founder of Advanced Vehicle Systems Team. Nichols had spent time in Japan following the war selling Goodyear and Firestone tires. Towards the end of the team's life in Formula 1, the team disbanded and a mass migration took place to the newly formed ‘Arrows’ team. Nichols was able to sue and block a copy of the 1978 Formula 1 car from being produced, but the Shadow team was on its last legs. The team failed to qualify for a race in 1980 and the team was taken over by Theodore Racing. Nichols then disappeared from the racing world before resurfacing to attend historic race meetings and events. Don Nichols passed away this year at the age of 92.
The DN4, the car that dominated the 1974 CanAm season, is one of the reasons Shadow Racing continues to be relevant in historic racing events across the country. The car's dominance picks up right where it had left off in 1974. Regularly putting seconds between competitors depending on the driver. The two Shadow DN4’s at this years WeatherTech International Challenge with Brian Redman in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin at Road America put on a show, dominating the field by taking a 1,2 finish in their respective class race. The car is hard to mistake for another, the sinister black with starkly contrast white UOP(Universal Oil Products) logos look like nothing else in the field. At multiple times during my time by the cars in the paddock at Road America I overheard children say to their parents, “Dad, look at the Shadow” or “Dad, I wanna see the black car”. Whether through parental teachings or general child curiosity, there is a draw to the cars. It’s easy to see why as well, the DN4 looks like it should be patrolling the streets of Gotham rather than blazing the tarmac of a race track. The comparatively small front wheels, massive spoiler, jagged velocity stacks, and long sweeping lines make it look like the Batmobile. The naturally aspirated 8.1L big block Chevrolet V8 produced 800 BHP in a car that weighed 1,500 LBS. The car is pissed from the moment its started, with its low, rumbling and belching cammed V8. It proceeds to sound like it wants to kill when it's out on the track and reved out to 7,000 RPMS where it sounds like a buzzsaw against the trees of Road America. It is understandable why people of all ages are drawn to this car.
Whereas the DN4 CanAm cars were large, menacing figures, the DN5 and DN6 Formula 1 cars were sleek and slim. The DN5, the predecessor to the DN6, utilized a similar livery to the DN4 CanAm car with an all black car with large, white UOP logos. However, the car had added a gradient style bar of colors from ranging from white to red, with oranges and yellows in between adorning the side pods and along the wings of the front spoiler. In addition to the massive air intake with the American flag on it, the exposed Ford engine, and sleek, tight construction, the cars were a thing of beauty. The DN6 expanded on this color pallet with the new livery. Gone was the all black and in its place was a hamburger style of all of the previous Shadow colors. The bottom third of the car, up to the top of the side pod, remained black. Above that, the reds, yellows, and oranges from last years car were now lateral stripes that ran the length of the car from the small nose inlet at the front all the way to the rear spoiler. These stripes went up to just under the windshield, where white took over the top third. The look was truly unique.
The team name plays into the allure of the cars of themselves. The ‘Shadows’ sounds like a superhero, or villain tandem rather than a race team. Additionally, the car's aesthetic and demeanor play into that mantra very well. The name is not a multinational car manufacturer like ‘Mercedes-Benz’ and it’s not the last name of the team owner like ‘Williams’ or ‘Penske’. While these team names are not bad by any stretch of the means, there is something that catches the ear like ‘Shadow’. To play onto the name, the ominous figure that represents the team logo is another drop in the comic book bucket. The wide brimmed hat and long overcoat give the figure a very fitting, and very ominous look. When the eyes are added in some renditions of the logo, the whole image culminates to a point that fits the team to a T. Add the colors from the DN6 car into one of the later F1 years and you have one of the best racing logos of all time.
While not a thoroughbred winning team, to last 10 years in the cutthroat world of racing is a testament to Don Nichols and the Shadow Racing teams dedication and will to succeed. Even if the record books won’t be filled with their names, it’s always one of the teams that remains at the front of the ‘forgotten few’. The spirit of the team continues to live on to this day while the cars tour vintage racing festivals around the world. New fans of the team are born every day. I became a fan 40 years after their last race.