Inside the Underground World of Street Racing in Hong Kong
An Audi on Route Twisk, a zigzagging mountain road popular with Hong Kong’s petrol heads. Photo: Mihir Melwani

‘Nothing Else Matters’: Inside the Underground World of Street Racing in Hong Kong

A 23-year-old FinTech scion turned Hong Kong’s narrow streets into his racetrack. Then his luck ran out.

HONG KONG—Under the dim glow of streetlights, along a narrow winding road carved into Hong Kong’s tallest mountain, Lewis and Tony pulled their cars over at a small shoulder—the meeting point for a gang of racers.

“The wheels are factory, but I just put new tires on,” Tony bragged to a group of drivers gathered in January 2021 by a rain shelter known unofficially as Hero Pavilion. Drawn by the thrill of pushing their cars—and themselves—to the limit, the group of young men in their 20s came together to put their driving skills to the test. They left their cars idling—keeping the engines warm in case they needed to make a quick getaway.


Another car rolled around the bend and pulled in—an orange Nissan GTR. “That’s the fastest car here,” said Tony, standing next to his beat up old Honda with a cigarette hanging from his lips. “It’s Jamie’s. He crashed his last one. This one’s new, it’s 800 horsepower.” One after another, more cars rolled in at the pavilion, waiting for a race. Jamie is a fake name, and like all other drivers interviewed for this article, Tony spoke on condition of using a pseudonym due to the legal risks of street racing.

The pavilion, with a pagoda-style roof, sits near the highest point of Route Twisk, a road built by the British Army in the early 1950s that cuts through largely uninhabited hills in the northern part of the former crown colony. Now dotted with Chinese military barracks, the road is quiet at night—until the 800 horsepower beasts come down or police sirens start blaring. 

On most nights, the first racer would set off on a course to the end of the road, with the rest hot on his tail, waiting for a chance to overtake on the notoriously tight road. A wrong move could be deadly: a hair too fast on a bend and you’d spin out, a mistimed overtake and you’d risk a head-on collision. But this was not most nights.

“Cops! Cops! Cops!” Lewis shouted. He was tipped off about incoming police by a spotter stationed down the hill.

The drivers put out their cigarettes and sprinted back to their cars. Each one of the souped-up cars scurried away in different directions, trying to get out before the cops arrived. 


Halfway down the mountain, the driver in his Audi TT slammed on his brakes in order to avoid meeting a police car head on. Meanwhile, Lewis, who went in the other direction, evaded police suspicion by driving inconspicuously in his Volkswagen—a supposed family car boosted with a methanol injection kit and semi-slick tires. Lewis snuck into a friend’s garage at the bottom of the mountain, shutting off his car’s lights to stay hidden.

The group would meet just a few hours later, once the heat had died down and the squad cars stopped patrolling the mountain, in a ritualistic cat-and-mouse game between the city’s police and young people who held scant regard for them. 

Hong Kong police’s popularity plummeted to its lowest point during the 2019 protests, according to polls. Photo: Mihir Melwani

Hong Kong police’s popularity plummeted to its lowest point during the 2019 protests, according to polls. Photo: Mihir Melwani

This rebellious streak is common in a generation of youth who came of age witnessing the erosion of freedoms in the city under Chinese rule. It was most pronounced during 2019 protests resisting what many considered as encroachment from the Chinese government, which had promised the city a great deal of autonomy and civil liberties when it took over from the Brits. Unlike previous pro-democracy protests, the 2019 unrest notably saw protesters and police in the semiautonomous territory engage in fiery pitch battles that paralyzed major thoroughfares.

Many racers were sympathetic with the demonstrators, if not themselves active participants in the movement. When the protests died down in early 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of their joyrides took on a political edge.


“I do think that street racing is a form of protest against the Hong Kong government,” said Roger, a racer who backed the 2019 opposition movement from the sidelines by supplying protective gear to front-line protesters. Now, with street protests now severely limited by authorities, he rebels by racing as a “fuck you” to the powers that be.

“The relationship between police and Hong Kong people is the worst in the world,” Roger explained as he coasted along Hong Kong’s affluent Clear Water Bay district, while Tony and Lewis waited at a nearby meeting spot. “I think the people who hate the cops at the protests are similar to the racers. We’re all youngsters.”

Illegal street racing rose sharply in the months after the protests, with the number of reports about such high-speed pursuits increasing by 40 percent to more than 150 in the first 11 months of 2020—about one illegal street race every other day—according to the South China Morning Post. Some experts attribute the spike to Hong Kong’s pandemic restrictions, while others blame it on a lack of enforcement action. Hong Kong police declined to make anyone available for an interview but said it would “continue to take stringent enforcement against dangerous driving behavior.”

Tony’s beat up Honda. The 23-year-old starting racing in Hong Kong after joining a car enthusiasts’ Facebook page. Photo: Mihir Melwani

Tony’s beat up Honda. The 23-year-old starting racing in Hong Kong after joining a car enthusiasts’ Facebook page. Photo: Mihir Melwani

Tony was no political firebrand. Sure, the 23-year-old relished antagonizing the police on the road, but his urge to race stemmed from a desire to escape. From what exactly? His friends could not say for sure. But they believe it traces back to his unmoored childhood and teenage years.

Over a decade ago, a 10-year-old Tony spent his days racing radio-controlled cars in Shanghai, where his father worked at the time. They had gasoline engines and made proper exhaust noises—the closest thing to a real car that a boy his age could get his hands on. He was good at it, winning enough races to get sponsorships. But his budding racing career was cut short when his parents moved him from Shanghai to Los Angeles to attend high school.

Driving came naturally to Tony. He wasn’t great in school, and the driving exam he took a few months later, when he turned 16, might have very well been the only test he’d ever passed with flying colors. But all the trouble was adding up. 

Tony regularly ran afoul of California police for possessing weed, and he was constantly getting kicked out of school. His father moved him back to Hong Kong, hoping that it would put Tony’s life back on track. 

Tony converted his California license to a Hong Kong one at the first possible opportunity. Tony’s former partner, who prefers to stay anonymous for discussing private matters, recalled his ecstasy waiting in line at Hong Kong’s motor department to restore his muse.


“The first day, he was so occupied with driving that he basically just disappeared for 24 hours,” she said. “Our whole summer became about driving around Hong Kong and visiting people.”

“If you don’t run, you go to jail and you get your license taken. Period.”

After a brief stint at university in Switzerland, he returned to Hong Kong, joining a local car enthusiasts’ Facebook page and gaining notoriety for his heavily modified Volkswagen. It wasn’t long before he was invited to “weekly car meetups”—a pretext for friendly racing.

A delicate dance between Tony and traffic cops driving custom-made BMWs and Audis soon began.

“Typically, in Hong Kong, if you know you can run, you run from the police. That’s the only way you do it. If you don’t run, you go to jail and you get your license taken. Period,” Tony said.

They would do anything to avoid getting caught—part of the fun of it all for some. Fake license plates and illegal radar detectors are standard kit. But a small group of hardcore racers, some associated with the city’s notorious triads, resort to more aggressive methods.

“They’re willing to hit a cop car to prevent them from opening a door. They’ll hit a cop car and allow other cars to pass by first. Then they’ll reverse and everyone just runs,” Tony said. 

Some racers even have moles—friends and family working in the police force—who tip them off about upcoming patrols and raids. Others, like Tony and Lewis, use spotters—designated racers who’ll wait a few kilometers down the road on the lookout for incoming police, ready to warn their friends. In the three years he had raced in Hong Kong, Tony said he always felt racers had the upper hand.

Tony and his friends wait to start a race at Hero Pavilion on Hong Kong’s tallest mountain. Photo: Mihir Melwani

Tony and his friends wait to start a race at Hero Pavilion on Hong Kong’s tallest mountain. Photo: Mihir Melwani

David Bennett, who oversaw traffic enforcement at Route Twisk and other racing hotspots in northern Hong Kong, said the underground sport elicits only an apathetic response from officers nowadays because the police top brass encourage against risky pursuits.

“I used to demand that my boys must be out in high visibility every morning, making sure you get those morning speedsters. Now, you see nothing,” said Bennett, who retired from the police force last year after 34 years of service and now works as a security consultant. 

He said illegal racing was on the rise because of such a lack of enforcement action. 

“My opinion of the force, as I got closer to retirement, became less and less flattering,” said the former commanding officer of the police’s New Territories South enforcement and control division.

Back in the ‘90s, he said, he would pay off informers and infiltrate racing groups with undercover cops, sometimes for as long as three months at a time. Later, as more races were organized online, his team would create fake Facebook accounts to connect with racers in what he referred to as “cyber patrols.” But Bennett noted that social media gave the racers the upper hand. 

“There’s no doubt it’s an adrenaline rush, no matter if you’re the driver or the police officer.”

Public blasts warning fellow racers about upcoming covert operations—paired with moles planted in traffic departments—gave the speedsters an advantage. “There were a lot of leaks in the force—there’s a vested interest for young constables to leak intel to the racers. If our guys tell the other side about an operation, there’s no need for the operation,” he said.


But among the police are also those who crave the thrill of giving high-speed chase. And once it’s on, it’s petrol heads versus petrol heads. 

“There’s no doubt it’s an adrenaline rush, no matter if you’re the driver or the police officer. All my officers were naturals, who spent their youth around the garages, learning about engines and how to soup them up,” he said. “I can’t deny that there was an element of it being a duel. Them versus us. And I ain’t gonna lose.”

But these duels can have deadly consequences. 

Some years ago, Bennett gave chase to a group of motorbikers on Tony and Lewis’s favorite racing road—Route Twisk. In the fog of the race, one biker lost control, crashing into a lamp post and snapping his neck—an instant death. 

“It always comes out, ‘Is it because you initiated the pursuit?’” Bennett said. “I never carried that guilt. This was a choice that the person took to flee, when he could have stopped.”

Bennett lost multiple officers on his team to racing incidents, and witnessed devastating civilian crashes.

He recalls an accident in 1992 on Bride’s Pool Road, a storied racing route in northeastern Hong Kong, where two racers collided head-on while competing in time trials. Both were killed instantly.

“The family arrived about an hour later. They were just hysterical. I remember in one of the vehicles was the only son of two low-income parents from the estates. They invested all their lives and efforts in raising their lad, and now he’s dead,” he said. “That was hard to reconcile with. It hardened me in terms of tolerance.” 

Debris from a previous road incident at Route Twisk, a notoriously tight road for racing. Photo: Mihir Melwani

Debris from a previous road incident at Route Twisk, a notoriously tight road for racing. Photo: Mihir Melwani

Tony and Lewis met through a Facebook group, and their relationship was built on one thing—driving fast. “He’d hit me up at two in the morning while I’m in bed and say ‘Let’s go, we’re on Tai Mo Shan,’ and we’d go racing,” Lewis said, referring to the mountain where Route Twisk lies.

Money was never an issue for Tony. His father ran a successful financial technology company in Hong Kong. Tony’s friends said he had never held a job, living with a friend at a village house flat, overlooked by a Buddhist monastery.

When Tony crashed his car, he would just buy a new one, Lewis said, and he would blow hundreds of dollars on coke in a night. 

“He fucking loved Xanax. And coke. Oh fuck, what else? Pills man, lots of pills,” Lewis said. Tony had a hidden compartment in the subwoofer of his old car, a spot reserved just for the baggies, Lewis said.

That didn’t mix well with his other habit. When Tony got into a state—“no state to drive,” as Lewis put it—Lewis would take his car keys and force him to stay over. But when Tony raced, everyone thought the same thing: “There’s something wrong with this guy’s head—he doesn’t give a shit about consequences,” Lewis said. 

Tony’s skills were impressive enough to warrant forgiveness from other drivers for what is normally considered a mortal sin in racing—driving under the influence. 

A pedestrian death “would force the police to really crack down on all the illegal shit, like modification, street racing, all the garages… Everything,” Lewis said.


And the result of this drive for self-preservation means that racers tend to stick to empty rural roads late at night—they avoid recklessness on busy streets, and are more careful with pedestrians’ lives than their own.

There’s some order to this seemingly anarchic madness, Tony said as his group finished its last race of the day in early 2021 to make way for a different breed of adrenaline junkie: motorcyclists.

“The night’s over,” he declared to the group as dawn broke. “We have a gentlemen’s agreement with the bikers.”

In the early hours of the morning, the rumbles of modified car engines were replaced by the screams of motorbikes. A number of collisions between motorcyclists and car racers in recent years warranted the “gentleman’s agreement” between the groups, Tony said.

Lewis said the rules came from a “weird mixture between respect and fear of fucking it up for everyone.”

Still, mistakes happen.

‘It’s what makes me happy,’ Tony explains his love of racing in an interview with VICE World News in 2021. Photo: Mihir Melwani

‘It’s what makes me happy,’ Tony explains his love of racing in an interview with VICE World News in 2021. Photo: Mihir Melwani

After a long night of racing, Tony pulled up a plastic chair on the rooftop of his building. As he took a drag from a joint, he tried to define his inexplicable love affair with the world of cars. The interview was one of several times he spoke with VICE World News throughout 2021.

“Feeling the steering wheel vibrate left-right and feeling the tires,” Tony said. “Yes, I can drive fast, and be safe—by braking early and controlling every little thing I do. But pushing to the limit allows me to really get that adrenaline rush.”


The most passionate of street racers tempt fate every night they go out. For some, their luck is bound to eventually run out. 

“I know that death is obviously one of the risks, and I do push it to the… not just myself… but everyone who really races, pushes it to the limit. And obviously there’s a high risk of slipping out of that limit and, y’know, death,” he explained. “But from my perspective, I know it’s not exactly the right thing to do, but it’s what makes me happy. I enjoy it.” 

Tony’s father died of cancer in January of 2020, a death that devastated the then-21-year-old rebel kid. He had grown close to his father since his health deteriorated a few years ago, an anchor in his otherwise chaotic life.

His father’s passing also left Tony the directing responsibility—as well as the valuable shares—of the FinTech company. And the stress of having to suddenly manage a company, alongside a Xanax habit that was feeding off it, wore down his passions and relationships. Tony’s girlfriend broke up with him (again), and driving became more of a dark escape rather than the happy place that it once was. 

A year later, with his best friend Lewis’s nudging, Tony had sought to turn it all around. He’d gone to his first therapy session; he had plans to check into rehab and kick that Xanax habit; and he found a new happy place. He began building nitro radio-controlled cars, as 10-year-old Tony did, with Lewis, racing them around a government-run, totally legal circuit in the Jordan neighborhood in Kowloon. 


But by early 2022, Tony had racked up enough penalty points from his reckless driving that he learned his license would soon be suspended.

The day before he was set to lose his license, after a night of partying, Tony drove his Toyota Aristo to his ex-girlfriend’s place—he wanted to win her back. But high on a cocktail of coke, Xanax, and booze, Tony totalled his car outside her house, his former partner said.

He got an Uber back home, arranging a tow-truck to pick up the remnants of the Aristo for him. But the night didn’t end there. He needed another escape from his reality—the drugs just weren’t enough.

In the damp winter morning that followed, Tony drove one of his last remaining cars to his favorite road—Route Twisk, where in 2021 VICE World News watched him race the orange Nissan GTR in his coughing old Honda. But this time, he pushed it past the edge of the envelope. He lost control. 

Tony collided with a lamp post, wrapping his car in a V shape around the metal pole. Firefighters had to cut him out of the wreckage. He was rushed to the emergency room but ultimately succumbed to his injuries.

Tony died after his car hit a lamppost on Route Twisk in early 2022. Emergency responders had to cut him out of the wreckage. Photo: Courtesy of 車cam L

Tony died after his car hit a lamppost on Route Twisk in early 2022. Emergency responders had to cut him out of the wreckage. Photo: Courtesy of 車cam L

That Tony’s life met a violent end didn’t surprise his racing buddies, and fatal crashes happen at such frequency that it was only briefly noted in the local press.

Lewis said he and other racers know that the danger and the thrill are two sides of the same coin, and likened it to a drug. 

“You forget about all the problems in your life,” Lewis said. “In that time there and then, nothing else matters. You’re not thinking about death, you’re not thinking about the consequences. You’re just focused on the now.” 

And if death is the ultimate consequence, Tony was willing to risk it for the high, Lewis said, describing his friend’s death as an almost fatalistic ending to an anti-hero.

On Tony’s birthday several months later, Lewis drove by the crash site to remember his friend.

“It is a little bit of a weird feeling, when we pass the corner where he died,” Lewis said. “But personally, for me, when I pass that corner, I actually feel like I want to push the car harder, because I know that’s what fucking Tony would have just loved.”

The birthday drives would be it for him. After witnessing the impact of Tony’s death on his family and getting engaged earlier this year, Lewis retired from the game.

“To be honest, I still have that itch. I still crave going out and wanting to fucking floor my fucking car and go into corners and meet with friends and have a good laugh,” he said. 

But, he said, “Looking at the devastation around him and how it affected the people—I just don’t want that for my fiancée or family or friends.” 

Now, Lewis takes every opportunity he can to satisfy his speed cravings—from racing on go-kart tracks abroad to simulators at home.

The retired racer still needs his fix. He just won’t risk his life for it anymore.