Have you ever had a moment when you faced a challenge head-on, despite your fears and doubts, and emerged victorious? That’s exactly what happened to me at the Ford “Save the Manuals” event, held at CitiField in celebration of National Stick Shift Day. As someone who learned to drive late in life and stuck to automatic transmission vehicles, the idea of mastering the art of driving a manual transmission vehicle had always been daunting. But with the guidance of experts, including Team Ford NASCAR driver Ryan Blaney and Ford Performance Marketing Specialist Autumn Schwalbe, I took the leap into the world of manual driving and discovered a newfound passion for the stick shift. Let me share with you the excitement, the learning process, and the transformation that unfolded during this unforgettable event.

Related: Mastering the Manual Transmission Conquering Fears & Shifting Gears in the Ford Bronco 

Learned stick shift at the Ford "Save the Manuals" event. Overcame fears, mastered gears, and enjoyed the thrill of manual driving!
I was excited but nervous to learn to drive manual on this massive vehicle.

National Stick Shift Day: A Day to Celebrate the Lost Art of Manual Driving

Before diving into my personal journey, let’s take a moment to understand the significance of National Stick Shift Day. In 2018, Car & Driver dubbed July 16th as a day to celebrate and cherish the disappearing tradition of driving stick shift vehicles. It’s an ode to the art of manual driving, a once ubiquitous skill that is now embraced by a mere 1.7% of US drivers, according to recent statistics. Surprisingly, only 43 models offered by automakers in 2019 came with manual transmissions, a stark decline from the 69 models available in the past. As I stood at CitiField, I couldn’t help but realize that I was about to embark on a journey to revive this lost art and embrace a unique driving experience.

Related: Learning How to Drive a Stick Shift? What You Need to Know

Learned stick shift at the Ford "Save the Manuals" event. Overcame fears, mastered gears, and enjoyed the thrill of manual driving!
Feast your eyes on the 2022 Ford Bronco with Sasquatch Package. If I can master manual driving on this, I can drive anything!

Conquering Fears: I Didn’t See Manual Driving in My Future

My driving journey began nearly nine years ago when I finally obtained my driver’s license at the age of 30. However, unlike most drivers who see driving stick as a rite of passage, I stuck to automatic transmission vehicles, including my trusty SUV. The fear of learning and operating a manual transmission kept me at bay. The thought of stalling the car in traffic and facing embarrassment was a constant worry, and my tendency to panic when things didn’t go as planned only added to my apprehensions. Despite my husband’s efforts to teach me, I couldn’t grasp the intricacies of the clutch, and I ultimately gave up on the idea of driving a stick shift.

Ford Performance Marketing Specialist, Autumn Schwalbe showing me the ins and outs of manual driving.
Ford Performance Marketing Specialist, Autumn Schwalbe showed me the ins and outs of manual driving.

The Turning Point: Learning at the Ford “Save the Manuals” Event

The Ford “Save the Manuals” event provided me with an opportunity I couldn’t resist: learning from professionals in the industry, including the talented Team Ford NASCAR driver Ryan Blaney and the knowledgeable Ford Performance Marketing Specialist, Autumn Schwalbe. CitiField’s spacious and controlled environment was the perfect setting to start my manual driving journey. My first lesson commenced with the impressive 2022 Ford Bronco Sasquatch, sporting massive 35″ tires that initially intimidated me. But Autumn’s reassuring presence eased my nerves as she walked me through each step with infinite patience.

Ford Performance Marketing Specialist, Autumn Schwalbe showing me the ins and outs of manual driving.

As a petite woman standing at 5’2″, adjusting the seat was crucial to ensure optimal clutch engagement during my manual driving lessons. I had to position myself very close to the steering wheel, with my chest nearly touching it, and my knees touching right below the dash to exert the maximum pressure on the clutch.

Ford Mustang Dark Horse clutch, brake and pedal
The tools you need to master when driving a stick shift car: clutch, brake, gas, parking break, and gear shift.

Autumn, the Ford Performance Marketing Specialist, took the time to familiarize me with the pedals and gears, ensuring I understood when and how to use them. Initially, I found it a bit confusing. I even joked about needing a cheat sheet on the windshield. However, with practice, I gained confidence and effortlessly shifted from 1st to 2nd gear. Autumn even encouraged me to try putting the Ford Bronco into third gear for a higher speed, though I was initially reluctant due to the confined space of the CitiField parking lot. Autumn also challenged me to reverse, which, to my surprise, I managed with ease. Throughout the learning process, Autumn shared her observation that women often pick up manual driving more smoothly than men. Moreover, the backup camera on the Ford Bronco provided additional aid during my lessons, enhancing my overall learning experience.

Riding shotgun with Team Ford NASCAR Driver Ryan Blaney
Team Ford NASCAR Driver, Ryan Blaney preparing to show off his stick shift driving skills in the Mustang Dark Horse. Photo: Ford

Riding Shotgun with a NASCAR Pro: The Ford Mustang Dark Horse Experience

The thrill didn’t end with the Bronco; I had the privilege of riding alongside Ryan Blaney in the all-new Ford Mustang Dark Horse. Witnessing his seamless gear shifts through all six gears left me in awe, and I couldn’t help but aspire to reach that level of mastery one day. The experience left me exhilarated and eager to further my manual driving skills.

The Art of Automatic Mastery: Knowing When You’ve Arrived

Interestingly, during my manual driving journey, I also learned how to identify when you’ve mastered driving a vehicle with an automatic transmission. According to Autumn, when the vehicle operates smoothly, similar to an automatic transmission, and you instinctively maneuver through each step without stalling, you have achieved that level of mastery. It’s about synchronizing each movement with ease and precision, resulting in a smooth and effortless driving experience.

2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse
While I continue to learn to drive stick shift cars, I’ll dream of driving the all-new Mustang Dark Horse. Isn’t it a beauty? Photo: Kim S.

The Joy of Choosing a Manual Transmission Vehicle

Through my research and experience, I discovered why people who enjoy manual transmissions are onto something special. Aside from the thrill of being a gear-shifting aficionado, there are several compelling reasons to choose a manual transmission vehicle.

  • Manual vehicles have a lower sticker price than automatic vehicles
  • Better fuel economy and optimize engine performance, leading to improved gas mileage and more savings at the pump
  • Fun driving experience
  • Control

Choosing a manual transmission also often means a reduced purchase cost compared to automatic counterparts. You can save some hard-earned cash while enjoying the thrill of shifting gears and being in full control of your vehicle. Speaking of control, manual transmissions put you literally in the driver’s seat. You have the power to choose the perfect gear for every situation, appealing to those like me with a passion for being in charge. This sense of control creates a unique and individualistic driving experience, enhancing the connection between you and your vehicle, and igniting a passion for driving like nothing else.

Learned stick shift at the Ford "Save the Manuals" event. Overcame fears, mastered gears, and enjoyed the thrill of manual driving!

Transformed Perspective: Embracing the Joy of Manual Driving

My perspective on manual driving has undergone a remarkable transformation. Just a week before the event, I would have cringed at the mere thought of driving a stickshift vehicle. However, the Ford “Save the Manuals” event opened my eyes to the joy of manual driving. Learning from patient professionals like Ryan and Autumn made all the difference. While I still have a long way to go to match their expertise, I am determined not to be counted out. I am committed to practicing and honing my skills to become a proficient manual driver.

If you’ve ever considered giving manual driving a try, I wholeheartedly encourage you to embrace the challenge. It’s more than just a way of driving. It’s an adventure that allows you to connect with your vehicle on a deeper level. Being part of the 1.7% of US drivers who choose manual is a way to celebrate and preserve a tradition that deserves to thrive.

So, the next time you see a sleek manual transmission vehicle, don’t hesitate to give it a try. Engage the clutch, feel the gears shift, and let the road become your dance partner. It may take some practice, but the rewards of mastering the stick shift are well worth it.

2024 Mustang Dark Horse

Happy National Stick Shift Day! Embrace the joy of manual driving and keep the art alive!

Learned stick shift at the Ford "Save the Manuals" event. Overcame fears, mastered gears, and enjoyed the thrill of stick shift driving!