Can't you power-brake the auto and get some sort of decent launch? I know it is mostly a RWD drag techique... but won't it work here as well? Or will that put too much strain on the drivetrain, (which is probably a bit more fragile than a 300+ hp RWD car)...
In another vein, I'm curious. You said you weren't "interested in living my life 1/4 mile at a time" and that was why you didn't get the standard. But thats not WHY people get the MT at all. They get it for the extra control they get out of thier car. Not to mention that you will likely get better gas milage, (properly driven) than an auto. If it because you don't know how to drive a manual, that's ok. Heck, most kids your age don't know how to drive a manual. And if you are not interested in racing as you said, why are you racing?
As far as stock autos making great numbers under 30k, I point you in the direction of the Mustang GT. Fine, it isn't AWD, but it does handle better than any previous mustang, (and that is 40+ years) and the auto is a 5 speed and has great times, low 5 seconds to 60 (MT clocked it .1 slower than the manual). Not to mention the interior very comfy.
Am I biased? Probably. Moreso, it is my own first hand experience, (the handling, not the tranny, mine is a MT) that I am giving you. Under normal driving conditions, (not pushing it through the corners hard, etc), my 05 GT stock outhandles my 02 WRX stock. Of course, push it a little, and the WRX needs less driver input and the GT needs more, (and now it is the driver, not the car that matters). Of course, neither car is stock either. Both are different driving challenges and experiences.