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Learning How to Drive a Stick: Part 1 – Day 1

The WRX, as most of you know, is the first car I’ve owned that is a manual and this means learning how to drive all over again. This I find to be a huge and glorious challenge. Luckily, I have many friends that have manual cars and offered to help me out. Specifically, my friend Eric was more than willing to let me practice on his 2010 Mazda 3 hatchback.

The Mazda 3 is a very forgiving car with a low learning curve to master. Mazda’s are known for high quality and the 3 hatch is a gleaming example of this. The clutch is especially forgiving and the sweet spot is very large so I had plenty of wiggle room to correct any errors that I made. Surprisingly, I was fairly good off the bat. Yes there were stalls, but with Eric’s tips and guidance, I was driving stick like a champ in no time. The only time where I had a problem was surprisingly in a parking lot. Eric and I were pulling in to grab a bite to eat and I was driving with a fair amount of confidence. When I pulled in I coasted to a rest, but needed to get into a spot next to the restaurant. And in an instant, everything I had been taught in the previous 30 minutes was gone. I stalled. I started the car and attempted to move forward

In this series I will explain a few key milestone dates and how I’ve been up until those points; a journal of sorts. This entry will describe the first day I drove the WRX home.

I picked up the WRX after work on 9/9/13 with Alex and Chad and given my newfound knowledge of the stick shift, was confident that I could get the car home in one piece. As I pulled away, Chad stuck his face right next to the driver’s side window, staring deep into my soul and hoping with every fiber of his being for a stall. It was not meant to be as I pulled away like a seasoned pro. First stop-to-start with the new ride was a rousing success. That feeling was short lived however, as the road on which the Subaru dealer is located is not very forgiving. Route 17 in Ramsey, NJ is 60 MPH thoroughfare of trucks, SUVs, and idiots the likes of which the world has never seen outside of New Jersey; and that’s not even a bad road to drive on in this state. I waited a good 1-2 minutes before pulling on to the highway. Once clear, I moved into the traffic and bucked through 1st, 2nd, and hit 3rd and 4th much more smoothly. Everything went fairly well for the rest of the day, but the bucking and shifting smoothly was difficult to get over and I had it in the back of my mind each time I had to up or downshift. I did smell burning clutch once, which I was not happy about. I will say, burning your clutch once in your first day consistently driving stick is a victory. You do NOT want to burn your clutch consistently (or at all), obviously, but I was fairly proud of myself. Even Alex, who was my passenger, commented that I did pretty well and only had one constructive criticism: don’t have the clutch pushed in all the way and coast around corners/jug handles/circles/exit ramps. This is an excellent piece of advice as you should be in gear as much as humanly possible incase you need to make an emergency maneuver.

And with that, my first day of driving stick came to a close. I only really drove from the dealership to my apartment, but the following day I had work so I would get some good practice on back roads and highway scenarios. Stay tuned for my next entry of events after my first full week with the car.

Drive safe out there.

Written by Gregson

Gregson's love affair with cars began at a young age thanks to his father who introduced him to racing. He's been a fan ever since he saw his first race live at Watkins Glen at the age of 5. He loves GT3, F1, Rally, Touring, and Le Mans styles of racing. Intermediate knowledge of internal combustion engines. Any reading done for pleasure is devoted to automotive journalism. Gregson owns a WRX and can 4-wheel drift directly into your hedges, no sweat. He currently is a Senior Copywriter for McCann Torre Lazur specializing in pharmaceutical advertising. He lives in New Jersey with his wife Kate and their dog Savannah.

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