Occasionally, at my somewhat advanced age, I have occasion to think back on almost fifty years of my obsession with riding and racing off-road motorcycles and the many varied personalities with whom I have been associated as a result of that hobby. As one can likely envision, there have been a number of potentially undesirable associates who, by comparison with the average citizenship, truly qualify for the title. However, there have been many genuinely respectable and admirable gentlemen who, at various times during the past five decades, shared my enthusiasm for the sport of riding dirt-bikes. Men who, as adults during my formative years, were excellent examples of what a kid should hope to grow up to be: good, solid, God-fearing pillars of the community. The list of good men with whom I grew up riding grows shorter as time marches on. We lost another one of those gentlemen recently.
Mr. C. Wayne Valentine Jr. passed away several days ago at the age of 91, further reducing the number of old friends with whom I shared good memories of off-road riding during the early years of the sport in our area. Some would likely say that riding dirt-bikes would seem unlikely for a member of the Mississippi Highway Patrol, but it seemed perfectly natural back in the day when he and his kids were avid participants. It was a magical time not likely to be repeated.
I eventually spent almost twenty-five years organizing off-road racing events in some of our National Forests. In 1992, Mr. Valentine took his son, Billy, and me to the Desoto National Forest for my first-ever ride there. The next summer, he took us to a 4-H sponsored motorcycle safety clinic at the Laurel Fairgrounds. The event was well attended by local riders, including future District 4 Supervisor David Scruggs, now-retired U.S. Marshal Billy Valentine and local business tycoon Ken Keyes. The clinic wrapped up with a brief competition event held on the old race-track. I still have my 1st Place trophy from that event and cherish the memories it always brings to mind.
Later on, we both embraced the CB radio craze. Based upon his badge number, J-25, he chose “Smokey 25” for a CB “handle” and thus became “Mr. Two-Five” to a few of us in the old neighborhood. This is how I fondly and respectfully referred to him for over forty years. My genuine respect for law-enforcement began with “Mr. Two-Five” a long time ago. He unfortunately lost a run at political office in the early 1980s but was out the next morning, with a smile on his face, removing his political signs around the county; a true class-act from whom a lot of others could take a lesson. I like to believe that he was aware of the high level of respect I had for him, some of which grew out of his being one of a relative few adults who, as I was growing up, gave the impression of giving me credit for actually having a degree of good sense when I was not entirely sure myself.
I only saw him a few times in the last twenty years, however, I was (and forever will be) honored to have had him accept my invitation to conduct the standard devotional service during the Riders’ Meeting at my 1997 enduro in the Desoto National Forest. I was genuinely proud to introduce him as the man who introduced me to riding in our National Forest. I felt the circle had been completed, so to speak.