My First Time Driving a Manual Transmission Car

ford focus st

ford focus st

When I was a teenager, my stepdad tried to teach me to drive his 1978 Toyota Corolla.

“You need to know how to drive a stick shift,” he’d say.

My teenage self did not heed this wisdom because I didn’t want to be associated with his little green monstrosity. It was dented, the paint was faded, and the car was prone to break down on a whim. I was unwilling to give up cool points in exchange for a valuable life skill.

Twenty-five years later, my youthful folly came back to haunt me.

For my 40th birthday, my wife was going to buy me a dream racing experience. I would have had the opportunity to live a life-long dream of driving fast cars around a race track. However, there was one big problem. All of the cars had manual transmissions.

My heart broke into a thousand pieces when I realized that I’d have to miss this chance of a lifetime. After this huge disappointment, I decided to remedy this situation. I considered buying a used car to practice with, but more pressing financial issues such as eating, paying the mortgage, and not being naked took precedent.

I also thought about asking my neighbor, who owns race cars, if I could borrow one of his vehicles. Considering I’ve hardly spoken to him in the 7 years we’ve been neighbors, my wife encouraged me to abandon that plan.

All of this leads us to my most recent dilemma. I accepted an invitation to a Ford Eco-boost Challenge. As a car enthusiast, I like to participate in car-related events. I figured that I’d drive a few hybrids, talk about cars, and hang out with a few local gear heads.

But this event had another component that took me by surprise – the opportunity to race the new 2014 Ford Focus ST.

There was one big problem. All of the cars had manual transmissions.

My heart broke again as a looked longingly at the race track. But I would not be denied another opportunity to drive fast cars around a race track. I decided that this was the day I would learn how to drive a stick shift.

I marched over to the racing instructor and explained my dilemma. She was sympathetic and promised to have me zipping around the track in no time.

Hanging out with the pro drivers and my friend Kristen.

Hanging out with the pro drivers and my friend Kristin.


We commandeered a blue Focus ST and hit the road. The driver took me for a few “hot laps” before giving me my driving lessons. Riding with a professional driver is an exhilarating experience. She drove the car to it’s limits and gave me some practical tips along the way:

1. Pull the seat up so that your knees are slightly bent when you press the brake all the way down.

2. Keep your hands at 9 and 3 for maximum control of the steering wheel.

3. Keep your elbows close your body.

4. Hold the steering wheel gently. People have a tendency to hold on too tight.

5. Maximize your vision by using all of your windows.

I was champing at the bit to get behind wheel.

“Are you ready to give it a try?” asked the driver as she pulled into the pit.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I said.

The track was designed for maximum performance in second gear. All I had to do was get the car from Park to second. That was easier said than done.

I struggled to shift smoothly on my first couple of laps. My instructor was patient and helped me to make smooth transitions. By the fifth lap, I was shifting like a pro (in my mind at least). My confidence increased with each lap and I drove faster each time. I’d probably still be driving laps if the pro hadn’t decided to shut it down after about a dozen.

It was an unforgettable moment. I walked away from that experience with a not only a new skill, but also an understanding that it’s never too late to live your dreams.

Stay Strong,

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About author

Frederick J. Goodall

Frederick J. Goodall is the founder of Mocha Dad - a parenting website focused on fatherhood. He is passionate about parenting and helping men to be great dads, husbands, and role models. You can contact him at or on Twitter at