Stick shift made me feel one with the road, my roots 


Kristen stands in front of the Cruiser at the Zone Meet. Photo provided by Kristen Wetovick / Antelope Staff


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Seventy-three degrees is perfect driving weather when I have no air conditioning.

With the windows partially rolled down and the radio tuned in to the classics, I forget that I even need it. The hum of the engine rolls up through my feet and over my body, keeping me company.

I followed behind the red 85 Avanti my dad was driving, making our way down to Salina, Kansas for the first Studebaker Zone Meet that I would be participating in.

The meet was a goal that was years in the making. 

For my 16th birthday, he gifted me a 1966 Studebaker Cruiser in the color Algonquin Green. Now when he bought the car, it wasn’t a show car, but there was potential. Before we would dive into the extensive repair of the car, I would need to learn how to drive it. A car from the 60s is different from a car today in countless ways, but one significantly more so than the rest.

This car was a manual.

I had to learn when and how to shift into each of the three main gears and use a clutch. This foreign concept terrified me, but it excited me too. I would be the first out of my three sisters to learn how to do this, but it wasn’t something I could jump in and automatically do.

Dad taught me the basics of listening to the sound of the engine for a shift, avoiding the tendency to ride the clutch and understanding the different type of brakes this car had.

I didn’t have long to drive it before we started working on repairs. Slowly, the Cruiser came back to life. After six years of repairs, we would have an end goal and take the Cruiser and one of his Avanti’s down to the North Central Zone Meet during September in Salina.

For the three-hour drive down, I followed my dad in the Cruiser. This trip was not only the Cruiser’s first major outing, but my first solo drive.

For the first half hour of the drive, my hands were shaking so badly, it was hard to shift. I was nervous beyond all reason, but more than that, I was giddy. I was driving the Cruiser. By myself. Something that I could never quite picture myself doing until that moment.

A mild 73 degree fall afternoon had never seemed so perfect until that moment.

It also didn’t hurt that everywhere we drove there were thumbs up, honks, shouts of admiration and nods of approval.

The Cruiser and the Avanti stood proudly amongst other cars of their family, such as Larks, Champions, Dictators, Commanders and Hawks. Some so beautifully restored it seemed like a crime to have them on display to the public. But then again, that’s what these cars were made for: to be enjoyed, to be tinkered with, loved and driven.

The trip and the meet itself were more than I could have hoped for.

The day of the meet, I was told by almost everyone who had seen me driving or talked to me about the cars that they were proud of me. Proud of me for continuing the Studebaker legacy in my family. For asking my dad and other owners questions. And most importantly, not being afraid to drive.