Speed Demon

NYC’s Outlaw Racer Goes Free

Adam Tang was a stockbroker by day, underground road racer at night, and his video of the fastest lap of Manhattan went viral—until the police came knocking and he fled the coop.

The pounding on the front door woke Adam Tang, a geeky-looking 31-year-old broker. It was a Friday afternoon last September, and he had been sleeping off a late night trading commodities overseas from his eighth-floor, 650-square-foot pad in East Harlem.

Tang got on the elevator and ventured downstairs. On the way, he sensed something was awry. He considered hopping off the lift to take the stairs.

But it was too late.

PING.

The elevator doors opened like stage curtains and it was instantly clear that Tang was playing a real-life patsy; his own doorman was gesturing to a pair of hulking men in suits as if to say, “That’s him.” One mystery suit was gabbing on his cell phone while the other beelined over. “Come here with me a second,” the man insisted, taking Tang by his arm and escorting him to the mailboxes.

Clad in shorts, a t-shirt and sandals, Tang did the mental calculus. “I know why you guys are here,” he said after being flashed a badge. The suit played along, asking: “Why?”

“I’m the guy that made the video. I’m Afroduck.”

***

Before Adam Tang’s Sept. 5 interrogation and subsequent perpwalk, ‘Afroduck’ had been a faceless Internet anti-hero, the underground road racer who beamed up a hi-octane video of himself lapping Manhattan in record time. The six-minute YouTube clip went viral—within 48 hours of posting his feat, he amassed hundreds of thousands of hits. The authorities took note—they apparently interpreted Tang’s 26-mile circular joyride as a motorized version of flipping the bird—and days later, Tang was being booked for reckless endangerment.

Many within the underground speed driving community—along with enthralled observers on the outside—were tickled by the unknown racer and his ‘Afroduck’ avatar, which featured a photo that Tang had snapped years ago of a genetically defective duck with a feathered ‘fro. When Tang was finally busted, his celebrity exploded. He was the talk of ‘The Tombs,’ Manhattan’s downtown Detention Complex. “When I was there they asked me, ‘You’re the speeding guy!’ and ‘Tell me about your trip,’—everybody from the booking person to the nurse who did a medical report on me,” Tang told me. “The guards were even watching my video on YouTube in prison. That’s when I knew I was special. I was put in this other, real realm.”

But the legions of fans have since disappeared—as has Tang himself. Days before a jury handed down a guilty verdict, Tang flew the coop—leaving behind a pregnant wife and a jail sentence in his rear-view mirror.

***

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Adam Tang can be sized up as gearhead who has a knack for zeros, ones and RPMs. Growing up in Calgary, he was a privileged only child who skipped the third grade. His mother is a successful attorney; his dad is a project manager in the booming Canadian oil sands industry. As a kid, Tang may not have donned a pocket protector or been a D&D whiz, but he was thoroughly steeped in computer and car cultures. His dad, a Ferrari and BMW connoisseur, first plopped the 8-year-old Tang behind the wheel of a Go-Kart; and the walls of the Tang family home were plastered with pictures of vintage Ferraris F40s, F50s and E-series BMWs.

As a teen, Tang spent an entire chicken pox-plagued summer “conquering” Grand Tourismo 3. The day he turned 14, he received his learner’s permit and on his 16th birthday he was first in line to take and pass his driver’s test. As a young driver, Tang quickly mastered off-roading in the tundra, peeling out in his first ride, “an old Range Rover.”

Tang says he always kept his nose clean. “I was never been suspended or expelled.” He also overcame bullying early on before undergoing multiple surgeries for a cleft palate. “Kids will call you names—like, they would yell at me ‘You have a hairpin lip, kid’ or ‘Your face is fucked up.’”

Growing a stiff backbone, Tang soon befriended fellow adrenaline junkies at his high school, who wiled out over gizmos and drove tuned Hondas, aka “rice rockets” or “ricers.” Late afternoons, his racing mates would “do doughnuts in the school parking lot after school.” On the rare occasions when a cop bothered to intervene, it was usually to deliver a limp talking-to.

Later, Tang graduated to BMW and Porsche cars by enrolling in their respective driving schools. Once he made it to college, where he double majored in Economics and Political Science, Tang bought a Le Mans blue 2006 BMW Z4—the same Beamer that, years later, he would drive to infamy in Manhattan.

***

On Aug. 27, 2014, while most of New Yorkers were sound asleep, Tang slipped behind the wheel of his BMW, fitted with a custom Sony video camera rigged to the dashboard, and started his 24-minute and seven-second trip around the circumference of Manhattan.

The official speed limit on the island’s outer ring averages around 30 to 50 m.p.h. and is a demanding stretch of road full of hairpin turns and twists. The FDR Drive alone is rife with two lane zig-zags.

But it’s also packed with spectacular sights, including several tunnels that, in the witching hour, with turbos boosting and sans gridlock, can feel like flying out of a birth canal. And when wheeling under massive Manhattan spans, including the iconic Brooklyn Bridge and by the well-lit George Washington Bridge, it’s a rush even at slow speeds.

Afroduck claimed he averaged around only 66 m.p.h. on his record-breaking lap of the Big Apple. Before the trial, the assistant district attorneys and NYPD cops attempted to recreate Afroduck’s drive. The cops and the lawyers videotaped themselves in an unmarked cruiser, mimicking Tang’s race route to try to peg a speed estimate.

“They tried to calculate it in court but I barely cracked 100 [miles per hour],” Tang told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview from Canada, where he had fled his guilty sentences for reckless driving and reckless endangerment misdemeanors. “If I did, it would have been for only a couple of seconds at most.”

Tang’s record run started around 4 a.m. He was already wide awake, playing the stock market. But the day was quickly becoming a bust. “Most people had their positions,” Tang said, reflecting on the coffee futures he was watching on the London Stock Exchange. “The price of coffee at that time was drastically low and I thought it should have been higher. So I’m bored and I figured I’ll go out for a half-hour drive.”

The purpose of that morning lap, Tang stresses, was to put his latest video rig to the test. Beating the record was a bonus. “I wasn’t planning to do this. I did it off-the-cuff.”

Tang headed to his Beamer, which was parked on the street in his East Harlem neighborhood. He was wearing his prescription eyeglasses—he’s needed them ever since college. “It’s dark and I can’t see far way without them.”

As Tang started up an on-ramp at E. 116th Street and FDR Drive, he slipped into “Afroduck” mode. “I press record and I start driving.”

Tang remembers he chose to keep the LCD screen shut (“because I was concerned the cops would take notice”). Tunes played but they weren’t meant to set a mood. “The radio was playing some stupid FM channel.” Between the 1-800-Got-Junk and Dodge commercials, there was also Hans Zimmer’s “Gimme Some Lovin’ (the same ditty featured in the NASCAR racing film Days of Thunder).

All Tang remembers from that morning drive were the mistakes. The record was beat, but Tang claims he barely tried. “This was like going to the grocery store for me.”

He remembers easing off the gas when passing three NYPD marked cruisers, as well as taking it slow around the construction detour of the World Trade Center. “You’re limited by physics and you can’t blaze through there,” he said. “And you don’t want to rip by a cop and get him upset by speeding by and saying ‘Come chase me, eh?’ I back off a little bit. I lift off the throttle and cruise by the cops at 40-45 and nobody’s the wiser.”

In the course of lapping Manhattan, there are several opportunities to blow through a series of red lights. But Tang managed to come to a halt at every red light save for one. “Look, another car went through it, too, and tons of people would have run that red light—which was right after another red light. If I slowed down I may have been slammed from behind. So I said, ‘Fuck it.’”

And despite looking back at the run as being “clean,” Tang regrets a series of flaws: falling behind a truck that ate plenty of precious seconds; never catching up to an Acura (with New Jersey plates) that was far in the distance; and flooring it northbound up the West Side Highway.

Tang estimates the elusive Acura driver was going well over 100 m.p.h. “He was way ahead of me and I thought ‘He’s going pretty fast, so let’s see if I can catch up?’ I couldn’t catch up to that dude.” Toward the end of the video, the Acura is seen squarely in the frame. “You can see his license plate and they didn’t do anything to him,” Tang notes.

Tang made it safe and sound back to his East Harlem home. By then, it was 5 a.m. He says he started uploading the footage before proceeding to “kiss my wife and cuddle up to her” until sunrise. When the married couple awoke, they watched the historic run.

***

Tang went to work on cutting the video and and then posted it on YouTube with the not-so-subtle title, “Fastest Lap Around Manhattan.”

He says he took postproduction cues from a pair of faceless twentysomethings from New Jersey who make up what’s known as the CBC collective. (The CBC spoke to The Daily Beast but requested to be identified only by their first names, Ed and Mike).

The CBC collective was a pioneer in its own right. They were the first to upload on the web underground racing footage of their record drive around Manhattan island in 2010. Tang integrated their style: speeding up the footage to 4.3 times the normal speed and layering the speed antics with a heart-pulsing soundtrack. Tang chose a soundtrack by Steve Aoki and Afrojack called “No Beef” and he added a digital counter with big white digits, proving front-and-center that his record-shattering race time was indisputable.

The video, which has clocked in more than 1 million views so far, is almost as entrancing as its soundtrack. Tang’s front window panel immerses the viewer into a warped cockpit that throttles at breakneck speed through the Big Apple. “I put it up fast so I could show it to other friends and see what they thought,” Tang said of his decision to upload it on YouTube without waiting two years—the precise amount of time for the the statute of limitations on a misdemeanor to elapse.

Initially, only about 50 friends watched Tang being a badass on the highway. To make his record official, Tang reached out to the CBC collective, whose fastest time around Manhattan stood at 26:03.

Back in 2010, the driving duo had set out to break the original Manhattan record, which was set on Sept. 10, 2001, by a maverick speedster named Alex Roy. Like Tang, the CBC boys naively uploaded their footage without waiting. “We posted our video right away; thought it was cool,” Ed told The Daily Beast in a recent interview. “But nobody cared.”

They admit that if they did the drive again, they’d rethink going public. “We did the same thing Adam did and in retrospect, had we known better, we would have waited to release it.”

In fact, Ed and Mike’s feat languished for a year before they yanked it off YouTube and reuploaded the same footage again. They also sent out press releases with a handy link to various blogs. “Things were crazy, crazy after that,” Ed said.

Suddenly, these two faceless daredevils were an online smash. In a matter of days, a pair of NYPD detectives visited Ed’s New Jersey home. He was in Boston but was ordered to return after receiving deflating news. “My mom said, ‘You’re in trouble’” Ed recalls. Once home, Ed was forced to confess. “The NYPD detectives made me write up a whole description of what I did and what happened.”

Mike and Ed hauling ass on New York City highway was one thing, but these investigators suspected a more diabolical plan was in the works. “It turns out they weren’t investigating [us] for the lap,” Mike said, adding the cops had tallied the pair’s reconnaissance runs and found the visits across the bridges and tunnels to be odd.

“The lap was secondary. It was around the tenth anniversary of 9/11 when we did the lap and they thought I might have been part of some car bomb plot because my car [a Saturn Sky Roadster] was unusual to be driving in New York in the middle of the morning on consecutive nights.”

The CBC collective got lucky—unlike Afroduck, there was no court, no perpwalk, no speeding summons. Mike only got a stiff verbal reprimand by the cops. “They basically said ‘Don’t do that again’ and I said ‘Okay, I won’t.’”

But when Afroduck’s video exploded online, the NYPD detectives circled back to the CBC for answers. Mike admitted he’d already spoken to the driver who bragged about breaking the record and referred to himself only as “Afroduck.”

“The cops wanted to know if I knew anything about it or knew who did it,” Mike said. “When I was asked to describe what he sounded like on the phone (New York accent or otherwise) I said that he sounded like he could be Canadian, but also Asian. I thought it was a very vague description and didn’t throw him under the bus.”

Even as the police closed in on Tang, other superstars in the underground racing community were privately disputing his record. Alex Roy told The Daily Beast that video tapes exist that prove Tang’s record has been beat. “I’ve seen other videos of drives done much faster,” Roy said. “But privately.”

Roy seemed annoyed that Tang wanted to cash in on his growing fame, and indicated he viewed the Canadian as an interloper on the underground car scene. “This kid has called me every day for a year asking me, ‘Alex, you’ve done this—how do I do it,’” Roy told The Daily Beast. “Tang wants help to make money at this. Asking for my agent’s name and my publicist’s name. And he has ignored every lesson laid out by guys like me and guys before me…He’s obviated the spirit of everything around this.”

For his part, Tang is honest about wanting to cash in on the victory lap. “I’m a business guy and if I can make money on it I’m going to make money on it.” He’s floated the idea of taking his Manhattan lap stunt on tour to other U.S. cities. And in the interim, he’s hoping to either lock down a movie or book deal; he’s chatting with one video game executive as well. “I watch a lot of documentaries. I find myself in such a complex place right now with so many facets that I don’t know the most interesting story to tell. But I know there’s a story there. Because why else would I be getting this much attention?”

Tang says he’s inspired by convict-turned-author Jordon Belfort, whose Wolf Of Wall Street book and Academy Award-winning film adaptation minted him a millionaire again. “You get one life. One story to tell. Well, I’m in my 30s, I think about this shit. I see Mark Zuckerberg as a twentysomething-year-old billionaire; it’s in my head.”

But as transcontinental record holder Ed Bolian warns, wearing a street racing crown doesn’t always equal quick cash. “There really isn’t a way to monetize this attention,” Bolian told The Daily Beast from his Atlanta home.

Despite dethroning Alex Roy’s transcontinental driving record from the East coast to the West in the superhuman speed of 28 hours and 50 minutes, Bolian says life hasn’t changed that much. The 28-year-old still sells Lamborghinis for a local dealership. “You might be able to use it as a career transition but there is really no defined way to make money from it. It’s a very complex mechanism for expression.

“There is an element of social deviance to this type of driving but for me it is really an impassioned tribute to a compelling aspect of automotive culture.”

Like fellow speedster Roy, Bolian says he’s also spoken to Tang at length about the legal fallout over his lap and also tried to talk some sense into him. But Bolian is mostly empathetic. “I am clearly not in a position to condemn but I don’t think what Adam did was entirely wrong.”

Yet any true underground race driver, Bolian says, must face the music if the cops come calling. “You have to own up to the potential consequences of an activity like this.”

***

On Halloween, Afroduck’s trial began and the prosecutor accused the defendant of turning Manhattan into an F1 race in Monaco.

Ten days of testimony included experts from Facebook, Verizon and Google being flown in from across the country (on taxpayer money) to verify various pieces of evidence. During jury deliberations, Tang claims he received a cryptic phone call on the night of Nov. 3.

“A friend of one of the jurors called and said ‘You’re going to be convicted no matter what. It doesn’t even matter if you testify.’” Tang claims. “That’s why I ran.”

On Nov. 4 at 4 a.m., Tang says he packed a suitcase and hopped into his storied 2006 BMW Z4 that he had used to illegally lap the city. Only this time he drove it out of town and back to his native Canada. “I stayed to see the ADA case; when they rested I did not present a case and left instead,” he said. “I’m not going to sit up at Rikers just because the ADA wants to prove some personal point.”

A no-show in court, Tang’s guilt was decided anyway.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance hailed the conviction nailing Afroduck for hitting speeds “of nearly 100 M.P.H.”

“The city’s roadways are not a racetrack,” he said in a statement. “Adam Tang showed blatant disregard for our traffic laws, and this dangerous and illegal behavior which he repeatedly flaunted online—placed others at risk.”

Tang feels that the D.A. hung him out to dry in an unreasonable manner. “I feel public humility in the sense that if you want to apply the law for what it is—give me a speeding ticket. Give me a ticket for running a red light. Give me a ticket for crossing over the white lines. Critique my driving for what it is. Don’t critique me as a person.”

As Tang rolled to a stop at the Canadian border, he says was met with zero resistance. To hear him tell it, Tang was treated like a big shot. “When I got to the border, they already knew who I was,” he recalled. “The freaking Canadian border agent handed me back my license and said: ‘Good luck Afroduck.’”

But Tang wasn’t entirely free of New York—especially because he’d left his pregnant wife behind in their East Harlem apartment. Tang says he’d kept his fugitive plans secret even from his better half. “At no time did she assist me to get over the border or anything,” Tang says of his hasty exit. “I got in the car and drove. She went to work.”

He says left her with a promise: “‘Honey whatever I do I’m going to be safe. Don’t worry.’”

After Tang went MIA, he says NYPD detectives showed up at his apartment armed with a search warrant. “The police were going to my house and waking up my wife at 6 a.m. for days,” Tang said. “They weren’t satisfied with getting a win in court so they came to my apartment every day and went through the closets and were checking under the mattresses. What am I, five years old?”

Tang says they asked her repeatedly: “Are you hiding him?”

Tang also says the police leaned on his American wife at her job. “They were trying to say that they could charge her with aiding and abetting.

“Because they can’t get me they were saying they might charge her for what I did… I could understand if I was some Colombian drug lord. But this is a YouTube driving case. And I didn’t think the NYPD would have the audacity to go after a pregnant woman who has had nothing to do with this since the beginning.”

***

Months later Tang remains in Canada. He’s confident he won’t be extradited back to the States. “I did my research and I talked to Canadian lawyers, who literally laughed at me on the phone saying ‘It ain’t going to happen.’”

On his YouTube channel, when commenters start drumming up whether a potential dragnet could be launched to pick Afroduck up in Canada he muses: “Quack quack, no they won’t :)”

Turns out, Tang’s native Great White North likely won’t turn him over. In a conversation with an official from Canada’s Foreign Affairs in Ottawa, The Daily Beast learned that Tang is safe so long as he stays out of the States. “The authorities from the U.S. would have to ask for an extradition,” the official said in a phone call. Highly unlikely, given that the conviction is for a misdemeanor not a felony.

The official confirmed that Tang landed on their radar back in September and again in November when he split before the guilty verdict came down. “We do know here he was not present for the court hearing verdict and that a warrant was going to be issued if he doesn’t present himself in 30 days.”

Authorities in New York City aren’t going to burn any resources bringing Afroduck back to serve his one-year sentence, either. “We’re still keeping an eye on what he’s posting but we’re not going to be storming into Canada to bring him back here,” a source close to the case told The Daily Beast. “The maximum sentence was requested, which was one year, and the judge tore him apart and gave him that sentence.”

Ironically, on the same day that Afroduck’s one-year sentence was ordered, the city’s 30 m.p.h speed limit signs were replaced by ones requiring drivers to slow down to 25 (PDF).

But Afroduck’s legal fight continues. Through his attorney, Tang filed a notice of appeal on Jan. 2 in order to be able to contest his guilty verdict and jail sentence. “I have never seen a misdemeanor prosecuted with such intensity and vigor, especially for a person with no prior criminal record,” Tang’s attorney Gregory Gomez said. “Deterrence is a laudable goal. But, this case became personal and vindictive.”

Going forward, Tang says he may steer clear of New York but hasn’t ruled out returning to other U.S. jurisdictions. “I might never be able to come back to New York but I could come back to California.”

Tang has rebooted his day trading work from a Canadian city he wishes to keep secret; and his wife has joined him there. They are expecting to welcome a child into the world come April.

For racer Alex Roy, Afroduck’s ultimate crime was fleeing. “There is someone out there right now, a kid—somebody who wants to do this. And he’s gonna do this and can’t be stopped. And this time he’s a New Yorker, let’s say, and he can’t flee the country. And when he does break Adam’s time, he will still have something Adam doesn’t have—he will have the full weight of law coming down on him and he will pay [Adam] Tang’s price.”

For his part, Tang seems impervious to the raised stakes. “I know somebody else in the future is going to beat me. But the question is, are they going to have the intellectual ability to beat me and stay hidden? Because, now that’s the criteria. Whoever it is has to know that if you make that circle lap around Manhattan you better not get caught because of me.”