Somewhere between the fictional town of Mayberry and the ghosts of NASCAR past lies my childhood stomping grounds.  I grew up in Wilkes County, North Carolina, which has a fascinating history that intertwines moonshine, building cars to outrun the law and the birth of NASCAR.

It’s also located about 30 miles south of Mt. Airy, otherwise known as Mayberry on The Andy Griffith Show.

My father was a brilliant mechanic who crafted race car engines in the early years when Nasar was in its infancy. If you’ve ever watched an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, then you’re familiar with Goober the loveable, overly friendly, neighborhood mechanic.

In several episodes, the people of Mayberry drive up to the filling station, blow the horn, rev the engine a few times and then after a thoughtful second, Goober would diagnose the problem. Well, this scene was a frequent occurrence at my house, except the mechanic was my Dad.

Even though I have zero mechanical engineering abilities and I still cannot change my own tire (sorry Dad. Thank you AAA), I was completely fascinated by this entire process.

I spent many a summer night hanging out in a steamy garage watching my Dad and his friends work on cars the way the cast of Grey’s Anatomy works feverishly in surgery. Many of my Saturday nights were spent at a dirt race track consuming French fries doused in ketchup and vinegar (don’t judge until you try it!) with cotton stuffed in my ears to “keep me from going deaf “as my Mama said.

But the Mecca of all these experiences was being allowed to go down to PIT road where ALL the action went down. The precision, the teamwork, the split-second decision making and the rush of exhilaration that came with victory!

Some kids dreamed of backstage concert passes but for a budding adrenaline junky…this was it! I learned early on you can build the best race car, but your PIT crew would ultimately win or lose the race for you. Every second counts…

Thirty-five years later both NASCAR and I have been through many changes and I lost my favorite mechanic to cancer more than 20 years ago. However, he left me with an insatiable need to find out what makes things tick, and I still find a great many parallels between cars, racing, and our bodies.

We are living in a 24/7, drive-through, give-it-to-me-yesterday society.  This pressure causes us to drive our bodies with the pedal to the metal as if there are no consequences and we have no say over what impacts our bodies.

Unlike our NASCAR counterparts, we only get one vehicle to travel through life. How we treat our body and what happens to our body accumulates over time. Even the best-built machine needs PIT stops along the way for new tires, gas, and even from time to time a swipe of the windshield to see where we’re going. Unfortunately, most of our body vehicles only get an unscheduled PIT stop when our body breaks down from illness or the pressures of life.

The World Health Organization defines human health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not just the absence of disease. I will also add spiritual wellbeing as we are mind, body, and spirit. For most of us, if we are not currently “sick” we say we are healthy, but reading the definition above, our health status consists of many more pieces than if we have a “diagnosable illness”.

Take heart friends, this is not entirely our fault as our health system is built on the disease model. Healthcare in the US is a trillion-dollar industry and only 3 percent is spent on prevention.

Yes, you read that correctly, so stop and let that soak in for a minute. The current third-party payer system that we have created mandates that we have a diagnosable illness before we can access services. By then, we are very ill and the cost to treat rises astronomically.

Yes, it is true we are not invincible, and something will eventually take us to meet our creator. There are some accidents and health issues that we simply cannot prevent, however, more health issues are preventable than not.

You can become more proactive in your quest for better health and even lower your healthcare costs by doing the following three things:

  1. Awareness Educate yourself and your family with accurate health information. The more aware we become, the more we can recognize when we need to seek help. However, do your research and seek information from reputable sources who have your best interest at heart, not their bottom line. With early intervention, many physical and mental health issues can have dramatically less impact on our health as well as our finances.
  2. Control Believe that you can take charge of your physical and mental health. In health behavior, we use a term called fatalism which means the patient believes all events are predetermined and inevitable. Even with all the current health movements, I still find that people overall feel that they have little to no control over their health status. For example, Type 2 diabetes is almost 100 percent preventable with diet and exercise. Likewise, practicing proper relaxation and self-care can reduce our risk of experiencing episodes of depression and anxiety.
  3. Think P.I.T. (Prevention, Intervention, Treatment) Think like the NASCAR pros and use scheduled P.I.T. stops:
  • Prevention: Live a fuller life and save on healthcare costs by practicing preventative measures, such as dental cleanings, healthy food choices, training in First Aid/CPR and stopping smoking.
  •  Intervention Early intervention creates better outcomes and saves money in the long run. Things in which to intervene include language delays, academic difficulties, prediabetes and Alzheimer’s.
  • Treatment For many disorders, treatment is necessary and should be sought. However, ideally it should be a final step not our first step to prevent cancer, COPD, depression and substance use disorders, to name a few.

What I wouldn’t give for one more hot summer day infused with the smell of rubber, the sound of cars roaring around a track and the look of pride on my Dad’s face as he shared his passion and history with his grandkids.

Prevention and early intervention can save us money on our healthcare costs but can also save us something more precious than our money– time with our loved ones.

Today is the day to make a commitment to yourself and your family to do what you can to not only live but to live well.

While I won’t be in a garage this summer teaching my kids how to build a race car engine, you may find us down at the local dirt track with a tray of French fries, cotton stuffed in our ears, and an empty seat illuminated by a swarm of lightning bugs.

As always, until next time may you be well, may you be loved, and may you know true peace.