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Early Fall HOWA 2011

Buffalo, bears and a Bobcat UTV — Oh my!

A Bobcat 3400 is the newest tough animal roaming the rural Tennessee countryside and traversing the terrain of the Great Smoky Mountains

The cargo box on Doug Sopha's 3400 utility vehicle is a convenient location to transport feed for his many animals. He's shown here feeding his miniature donkeys.

The cargo box on Doug Sopha's 3400 utility vehicle is a convenient location to transport feed for his many animals. He's shown here feeding his miniature donkeys.

Nestled against the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and along the Little River are 200 acres belonging to homeowner and Townsend, Tenn., resident Doug Sopha. About 100 acres of Sopha's land is timber and trails, while the remaining 100 acres are occupied by hay fields and pasture to support one of his many hobbies — raising animals.

Sopha is 61 years old and has been retired from the commercial tire industry for more than 10 years. He enjoys his rural lifestyle, including his unique assortment of wild animals. His animal collection includes fallow deer, elk, buffalo, cows, horses, donkeys, goals, llamas and a camel. Sopha explains why he's added the animals since he moved to the property.

"After I bought the property, I never saw any deer," he says. "I bought some fallow deer, installed fences and watched them multiply over the years. Today I have approximately 18 deer; they're beautiful animals, and I enjoy looking at them."

History in tires and racing

Prior to retiring, Sopha spent his professional career with a company named Hoosier Racing Tire. He became affiliated with the company while he was engaged in another hobby — driving race cars.

"I grew up with Hoosier Racing Tire," Sopha says. "I was driving race cars as a hobby when I first heard of the company. I started selling tires as a dealer, and then I became their first distributor, serving the southeast United States. I distributed their racing tires until 2000 when I sold my business. It was good to me through the years."

Traveling across different terrains is no problem for Doug Sopha when he's in his Bobcat 3400 utility vehicle with four-wheel drive.

Traveling across different terrains is no problem for Doug Sopha when he's in his Bobcat 3400 utility vehicle with four-wheel drive.

In addition to selling tires, Sopha kept up with his passion for racing.

"The bread and butter of the racing circuit is the short tracks — the weekly races — and that's where our business was," he says. "I owned a couple of racetracks and currently have just one left, in a city west of here called Crossville."

He says racing is in his roots and is a favorite pastime for many people on Friday or Saturday nights.

No race car, but it gets the job done

As the owner of racetracks in the Knoxville, Tenn., area, Sopha often looked for new ways to draw people into the weekly races. He partnered with the local Bobcat dealer — Bobcat of Knoxville — to help them showcase their compact equipment and encourage more people to attend the races. It was through this marketing initiative that he got to know the dealership owner and sales team well.

"There aren't many people like the employees at Bobcat of Knoxville," he says. "They're very accommodating and service-oriented. They do a great job from the first time you step into their dealership."

Sopha's relationship with the dealer led him to purchase a new Bobcatฎ 3400 utility vehicle. Its primary purpose is to help him maintain his property.

"The Bobcat utility vehicle is tough," he says. "I drive it through the woods, climb over trees and rocks, and it's never gotten stuck. It's smooth to operate, and the carrying capabilities of the cargo box are convenient.

"I'm constantly operating the utility vehicle. I drive it through the fields and nearby woods, spray the fence rows with a tank in the cargo box, carry fence materials in the cargo box and pull trailers. Once you've owned a utility vehicle, you realize you can't be without one."

Sopha previously owned all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to do much of the work that he does today with his Bobcat utility vehicle. As he's gotten older he prefers the utility vehicle for many reasons.

"The utility vehicle has better visibility, and the capability to go in so many different places with four-wheel drive," he explains. "Obviously, its power is another great feature, and the ability to load the cargo box, drive somewhere and dump the material is convenient. I could not do that with an ATV.

"Through the years I have looked at and tried most utility vehicle brands. The Bobcat 3400 is unreal; there's no comparison between it and other manufacturers."

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

It's no wonder Doug Sopha enjoys where he lives. Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a treasure for any outdoor enthusiast. Visitors can expect to see a variety of wildlife, including bears. According to the park's website, more than 1,500 bears live in the park. And for those who like to hike, the website says the park has 800 miles of trails to accommodate beginners up to seasoned outdoor experts. Learn more by visiting the website at www.nps.gov/grsm