A few years ago, I was invited to be one of the instructors at a Hagerty Driving Experience, a program the insurance company staged from time to time to teach young drivers how to manipulate a manual transmission.
Sure, I said. I’d learned to drive in cars with manual transmissions, and had made sure to teach my own children that skill.
Hagerty’s program was being staged on the oval track on the campus of the Gilmore Car Museum in southwestern Michigan. I was stationed inside a stick-shifted 1964 Ford Mustang, one of several through which the students would rotate during the day.
I’d explain to the newbies the value of what I called “patient feet,” releasing the clutch pedal oh-so-slowly while your right foot just hovers on the gas pedal. Get rolling before you release with the left and push with the right. Nonetheless, there was a lot of bucking and stalling.
Late in the day, a girl returned to the Mustang and asked if she might try one more lap. She’d bucked her way through her first attempt and wanted to see if she could conquer the car’s clutch and, it appeared to me, her own fears.
We talked through the process. Patient feet. She completed a lap with no drama.
She seemed surprised when I asked if she’d like to do another circuit, just to be confident. She smiled, and again circled the track without drama.
“You made my day,” she said as she walked away with her father.
To tell the truth, she’d just made my day as well.
All that to get to this: Between July 16 and September 6, Hagerty is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its driving experience program, which has trained more than 4,000 young drivers, and is asking everyone who owns a manually shifted car to help it teach 500 people how to drive a stick shift within the 50-day period.
“Hagerty is calling on manual drivers to connect with an untaught friend or family member and spend an hour in a parking lot or quiet road to teach the basics,” the company said in its announcement, adding that it encourages all participants to follow their local Covid-19 safety guidelines while doing so.
“Drivers are asked to share their experience on the Hagerty Community website, after which they will receive two ‘Shift Happens’ hats for their participation.
“Being able to drive a manual transmission is exhilarating and empowering, and we want to offer people the chance to get behind the wheel of a cool car and experience the fun and passion that enthusiasts know so well,” Hagerty chief executive McKeel Hagerty is quoted in the announcement.
“Teaching others how to drive stick is at the heart of car culture, and we hope to pass down this skill to the next generation of car lovers.”
For its part, Hagerty kicked off the 50-day period by staging at driving experience at The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan, where young drivers took their turns working the stick shift in a 1930 Ford Model A, 1969 Camaro SS, 1989 Porsche 944 S2, 1990 Mazda Miata, 2000 Honda S2000, 2013 Ford Shelby GT500, 2015 BMW M235i and a 2017 Honda Civic Si.