Racing in the Shadows: The Story of the Shadow Racing Team

Founded in 1968 as Advanced Vehicle Systems, Don Nichols’ Shadow Racing team fielded innovative race cars in both the Can-Am and Formula 1 series. Shadow Racing was the first constructor to officially change nationalities. From 1973 to 1975, the team had an American license, and it had a British license from 1976 through 1980.

1974 Shadow D N 4 at Watkins Glen
1974 DN4 at Watkins Glen. Photo by Christian Sinclair.

The Can-Am Years

In 1970, Shadow Racing made its debut in the Can-Am series with its MkI race car and drivers George Follmer and Vic Elford. The MkI featured a Chevy big-block engine and low drag thanks to a minimal frontal area. Firestone manufactured tires for the team that were 30 percent smaller in diameter than what the competition was using at the time. The tires measured 17 inches in the front and 19 inches in the back. The car was fast, but it also wasn’t the most reliable. Because of the smaller wheels and tires, the team had to equip the car with smaller brake rotors, which didn’t offer great stopping force or heat dissipation. Since there wasn’t enough room within the body for it, the radiator was built into the rear wing. The car didn’t finish a race.

The next season proved to be better. Jackie Oliver finished eighth in the Can-Am championship in the Peter Bryant–designed car, which was influenced by Bryant’s Autocoast Ti22 “titanium car.” During the season, Universal Oil Products signed on as a sponsor. The team used Goodyear tires that measured 18.8 inches in the front and 22.3 inches in the rear—still smaller than what the rest of the competition was using and about the same size as the then-current Formula 1 tires. The wedge-shaped MkII was always painted in black and white. However, the car only completed one race that season, at Edmonton.

The low-profile tires were replaced with more-conventional rubber for the 1972 season, therefore resulting in a taller body for the MkIII. The team placed a wing between the front wheels and relocated the radiators to the sides of the car. They finished only one race during the season.

Shadow Racing Team Mk I
Shadow MkI. Photo by Frank Ullrich via Wikimedia Commons.

For the 1973 season, the Tony Southgate–designed DN2 debuted (Southgate had previously designed for BRM). With a “shovel nose” front end, the DN2 had a 1200-hp turbocharged engine, which proved to be unsuccessful and was raced only three times. The team then switched to a 735-hp naturally aspirated Chevy engine, but it proved not to be enough to defeat the dominant Porsches and didn’t handle well with its heavy chassis. Out of eight races, the Shadow team finished two races, at Edmonton and Laguna Seca.

Finally Some Success

The shortened 1974 season became the Can-Am series’ final season. Shadow Racing proved to be dominant, being the only team to field new cars (Lola, McLaren, and Porsche had all left the series). The DN4 was smaller and lighter than the DN2 to help comply with the series’ new fuel economy regulations; cars had to get at least three mpg. Both of the DN4s, with Oliver and Follmer driving, had 495-cubic-inch Chevy V-8s that produced 800 horsepower. The team finally won races—four total plus the championship.

Shadow Racing Team D N 1 at Montreal
Shadow Racing DN1 at Montreal. Photo by Pat Guiney via Wikimedia Commons.

Entering Formula 1

In late 1972, Nichols announced that Shadow Racing would be entering Formula 1. The team’s first race was at the 1973 South African Grand Prix, with a Southgate-designed car and the DN1 chassis with a Cosworth powerplant. Shadow Racing had two cars available for Follmer and Oliver, along with a third for a private entry with Embassy Racing’s Graham Hill. The team got a sixth-place finish at its debut in South Africa. In ’74, Shadow hired Peter Revson and Jean-Pierre Jarier. Sadly, the DN3’s suspension failed during a pre-season practice session at Kyalami in South Africa, and Revson died from the resulting crash. Brian Redman took over Revson’s seat and soon passed it on to Tom Pryce.

1974 Shadow Racing D N 3 at the 1974 British GP
Jean-Pierre Jarier’s DN3 at the 1974 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. Photo by John Pease.

Shadow Racing used the new DN5 for the 1975 season; the car’s Ford Cosworth DFV engine put out about 490 horsepower. Pryce won the Race of Champions with the new car. Jarier piloted the car and got the pole position in the first two races of the season, but in both races, the car had mechanical failures. A Dodge-powered DN6 car also competed in five races during the season and once in 1976 at Mid-Ohio.

Tom Pryce's D N 5 at Mallory Park
Tom Pryce’s DN5 at Mallory Park. Photo by TOM via Wikimedia Commons.

Later in 1975, Jarier started driving the DN7, which featured a Matra V-12 engine that produced about 550 horsepower. The DN7 was longer than the DN5 to accommodate the much larger engine. The team failed to get good results, and at the end of 1975, UOP withdrew its sponsorship support. They finished sixth in the constructors’ championship (the team finished eighth in three of their first four years in F1). Jarier left the team at the end of the 1976 season.

At this point, Oliver had stopped driving for Shadow Racing. He went on to obtain more sponsorship and help design the DN8. Renzo Zorzi joined the team.


Unfortunately, during the 1977 South African Grand Prix at Kyalami, Pryce died in an accident that involved a 19-year-old corner marshal. Zorzi had stopped on the side of the main straight, and the marshal went to cross the track in case a fire emerged. The marshal was instantly killed when Pryce hit him, and the marshal’s fire extinguisher hit Pryce in the head.

After the accident, Alan Jones took over Pryce’s seat in the DN8 race car. Jones then claimed the team’s only victory that year at the Austrian Grand Prix at the Österreichring, now known as the Red Bull Ring. He also managed a third place finish before the end of the season. The team finished the season seventh in the constructors’ championship.

Shadow Racing team's D N 8 at Barber Motorsports Park
Shadow DN8 at Barber Motorsports Park in 2010. Photo by Legends of Motorsport via Wikimedia Commons.

The End of the Shadow Racing Team

The Shadow Racing team started to disintegrate after the 1977 Formula 1 season. Jones left for the Williams team at the end of the year. Most of the team, along with sponsor Franco Ambrosio, formed the Arrows team.

Without much luck, Elio de Angelis, Clay Regazzoni, and Hans Stuck stayed to race for Shadow Racing. The trio managed to score only three points paying finishes during the team’s final three years. During the first seven races of the 1980 season, they had 13 DNQs. Nichols then sold the team to Teddy Yip’s Theodore Racing in 1980, but after the halfway point of the season, the team closed its doors.

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