Like most aspiring broadcasters of his era, Mike Tirico remembers tuning into ABC every Saturday to watch Wide World of Sports, listening in rapt attention to the dulcet tones of Jim McKay.
"It was Channel 7 back in New York," Tirico recalled fondly, "and this was a time that was almost unfathomable — pre-cable, no internet. Wide World of Sports shrunk the world. It took you everywhere."
One of the places was the Indianapolis 500.
Tirico would watch A.J. Foyt and the Unser brothers and the rest of those famous daredevils as they pushed their cars to the limit at the Brickyard. McKay would provide the soundtrack, right along with the roar of the engines, of a spectacle that Tirico remembers vividly all these years later.
Now he's ready to settle into McKay's old seat.
After airing every Indy 500 from 1965 through last season, ABC was outbid for the rights by NBC, giving the network exclusivity over the IndyCar Series. And that means Tirico, who spent 25 years with ESPN before heading to NBC in 2016, will host the broadcast Sunday alongside Danica Patrick and a host of other celebrities, analysts and reporters.
"It was the one race as a family we'd sit down and watch, and now knowing people will be doing that at home, it gives me a chill," Tirico said. "Just seeing with my own eyes what I've seen for years on TV, it's hard to imagine all those seats being full, as far as the eye can see."
The Indy 500 falls within a busy three months for Tirico, beginning with the Masters and including the Stanley Cup Final, horse racing's Triple Crown and the French Open in Paris.
Asked where it ranks among those signature events, Tirico said right at the top.
"When I got hired here," he said, "three of the things I talked about that I had never done in the business were the Kentucky Derby, the Olympics and the Indy 500. When they asked me if I would be host, that really does complete the list of significant sporting events I've wanted to go to."
The trick now for Tirico — and NBC, for that matter — is to push the broadcast forward while still respecting the traditions that became ingrained on ABC over the years.
Already, the network has poured massive resources into promoting the event.
Television spots have been airing since mid-January, often during other major events such as the derby and the NHL playoffs. The "Today" show will air from the speedway Thursday with Tom Hanks as a guest host. The production will include roughly 400 crew members, more than a dozen commentators and analysts, and cameras positioned just about everywhere within the 560-acre speedway and its famous 2.5-mile (4.02-kilometer) oval.
"The live event is the centerpiece, the place everyone wants to be," said Sam Flood, who will produce the broadcast. "We want people at home watching to say, 'Next year, I have to be there.' We're treating this like an event, not just a race. I think that's really important."