Confessions: The Time I Broke Someone’s Shifter

Car forums are were a wonderful place. It was a meeting place for people from all walks of life to discuss their passion. I was apart of some of the best online car communities (and a few of the worst). But mostly, my experiences were positive, especially in the online car forum early years.

My automotive home for both the internet and real life was It was one of the first groups I joined when I bought my Alero and I made lifelong friends from the motley crew that made up our car club. One of our favourite outings was making the two-hour trek to the local drag strip on test and tune nights.

New Car, Same Crew

Even after I had rotated through cars faster than the Cleveland Browns rotate through coaches, I still hung out with my friends at GrandsOntario. In the summer of 2006, I now owned a Chevrolet Cobalt SS and of course I had joined one of the two major online cobalt forums (I can’t remember which one, but I do remember there was quite the heated rivalry between the two sites).

I was online one day in the local Canada section and mentioned to my fellow Cobalt owners that I was heading to the drag strip that upcoming weekend with my GrandsOntario friends. I opened up an invite that if anyone wanted to come along, they were more than welcome.

To my surprise, one guy responded and said he would like to come. He was a newer member and although I was only 26 at the time, he was just a kid of about 18 or 19 years of age. I gave him the details and said I’d see him there. I can’t remember his name, because I’m horrible with names, so let’s call him Mr. Cobalt.

Come Drag Racing They Said. It Will Be Fun They Said

Mr. Cobalt lived near the drag strip and met us all there. He rolled in shortly after we arrived and found me without issue since we were probably the only Cobalts there. He had a coupe like mine, but with the smaller, less powerful 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine. Funny enough, he had brought a friend along with him to the strip who happened to a friend of mine as well. Small world.

Mr. Cobalt had never been drag racing before so we gave him some pointers, like don’t worry about the tree yet as this is just testing. Ensure you get a good launch to maximize your ¼ mile time. As the night went on, we were all having a great time. Conditions were ideal and I was chasing my personal best time (15.05 – I know, but it seemed fast back then).

Mr. Cobalt was enjoying himself but having trouble optimizing his time. He was over a second off my time, which shouldn’t be since his car was lighter, had lighter wheels and was only giving up about 28 hp to mine. Our mutual friend suggested I ride along with him and give a few more pointers. We went for a ride and I realized he was launching with too few rpms and bogging the car down. He tried a few more runs and got his time down to 16.05

I Did It.

He was having fun, but really wanted to get his car into the 15 second range. Our mutual friend suggested he let me try since I had been doing this for a few years. To my surprise, Mr. Cobalt agreed. Oh, how he shouldn’t have.

Maybe Not the EXACT Cobalt I Drove

Now, I am no expert drag racer. I’m novice at best, but even at 26 years of age I had driven many different cars down the strip. I was learning how to feel that optimal launch point between excessive wheel spin or bogging the engine down. I grabbed the keys and hit the strip.

On my first run, I launched with far too many rpms and spun the tires all the way through first gear. Still, I managed to recover, bang off some quick shifts and complete the ¼ mile in 16.03. Not bad Mike, not too bad at all.

I asked if I could go for a second run and he foolishly agreed. I entered the staging lights and lowered my rpm from my last attempt. The light went green and dropped the clutch slowly, rode it for a brief millisecond, and the car launched hard. I nailed it. A moment of spin then nothing but traction.

I Really Did It

Those unfamiliar with the Chevrolet Cobalt shift knob, I have attached an image here for reference. The Shift knob is made up of three pieces. The bottom piece attaches to the shift rod and forms the bottom half of the shift ball. The top half of the shift ball snaps in place and has a third piece that is a plate on top, showing the shift pattern.

Your Days Are numbered Shift Knob

When I nailed that near-perfect launch, the adrenaline started to flow through my veins. I was on route to breaking the 15-second barrier for my new friend in his 145-hp wonder. As redline approached in 1st gear, I slammed that shift lever into second. Like, really slammed it. I was powershifting like a MoFo.

So much force was exerted, I snapped the top half of the shift ball clean off. I was accelerating down the drag strip, with half a shift ball in my right hand. I did a triple take to make sure the car was still in gear, and to comprehend what had just happened. As redline approached in second gear, I had a choice to make. Back out of it now or grab that mess of jagged plastic and keep going.

I chose the latter and shifted into third with the most awkward looking of maneuvers. I completed the pass and yes, broke comfortably into the 15 second range.

I headed back to Mr. Cobalt with time slip in one hand and broken shift knob in the other. I told him what had happened, and he was very nice about it and said he’d take it in for warranty next week. He even congratulated me on getting into the 15s.

But now, come to think of it, I never did hear from him again.

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