by Britt Aamodt
Cars burn rubber in Amanda Milbrandt’s family.
When she was 3, her mom, Marti Carroll, placed third in a demolition derby.
“Just me and my little Pinto,” said Marti Carroll of her bang-up finish.
The daughter still has the photograph of them posing at the derby. Today, nearly 30 years later, it’s Milbrandt, an Elk River graduate and Otsego native, who has taken up the mantle of family daredevil.
Any given Friday, April through Labor Day, you’ll find her charging around the Princeton Speedway in her Wissota street stock car. On the track, she looks like any other driver. But after the race, with the helmet off, you can’t help but notice she’s the only woman in the street stock class.
Milbrandt doesn’t care. Once the flag drops, it doesn’t matter who the other driver is, so long as he’s eating her dust.
Milbrandt grew up around cars. Her dad, Guy Carroll, owns Guy’s Towing and specializes in auto salvage. Along with his son-in-law, he’s also part of his daughter’s two-man pit crew.
It may be that the high-test fuel coursing through her veins is inherited, but Milbrandt came to the decision to race on her own. She was almost 12, already a Speedway regular, and given the honor of presenting trophies at the end of a race.
“After she gave the trophy to Larry Zeller,” a local stock car legend, explained Marti Carroll, “she ran up in the stands and grabbed my arm so hard she left marks. She said, ‘I’m gonna have a race car.’ I said, ‘Save your money.’”
Why that moment made up her mind, Milbrandt can only say, “I think it was because (Zeller’s) car still smelled like a race car. It hadn’t cooled off yet.”
She’d gotten her first whiff of real speed, and she was hooked.
In 1997, her dad gave her tools and bought her a starter car, a ‘79 Buick Regal.
“Every day she’d be out there, beating her knuckles bloody, stripping that car. So we said, well, I guess she really wants to do this,” said her mom.
April 1999 marked the official start of Milbrandt’s racing career.
“My first race I went zero miles per hour,” she said. “I was the most inexperienced driver. I didn’t even have a driver’s license.”
“Any newbie mistake there was, she made it,” said her mom, who figured the greenhorn would pack it in and sell the Buick. The parents waited for their daughter to slump out of the pits. When she did, she was beaming.
“That was the best thing ever,” she told them.
Since then, Milbrandt hasn’t missed a single Friday at the Speedway, except for a short time in college and then that horrible accident in 2001.
The accident wasn’t even on the track. It was race day and Milbrandt, her future husband and her dad were bringing the stock car, via a trailer, to Princeton, when a motorist struck them. Truck, trailer and car spun into a ditch. Eric Milbrandt suffered a head wound.
Guy Carroll, whose legs were caught, remembered his daughter lying on top of him and not daring to move, “because I knew if I did, she’d die,” he said.
Her neck was broken. It was one of those nearly fatal breaks, “but if you survive it, you’re OK,” her mom said.
She did survive. The very next day, the Princeton folks passed the hat, collecting funds to help pay her hospital bills. Milbrandt and her family will tell you that the people at the track are the best on earth.
Recuperation lasted a year.
At her first race back, Eric Milbrandt said, “she was nervous, but I think we were more nervous for her.”
Yet barring a few preliminary jitters, Milbrandt flew through the 20 laps like a returning soldier running for home.
And better things were yet to come. This August, after 14 years, Milbrandt had her best race, placing third and following it up with a fourth-place finish the next week. She placed fifth for the season.
“As long as my body lets me do this, I’ll be doing it,” she said. “I want to race for fun and I want to do better than I did the night before.”